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Polish faithful make 20th annual pilgrimage to Czestochowa shrine


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More than 5,000 people gathered in St. Michael Church (South Shore) early on the morning of Aug. 11.

They came in shorts and sneakers, T-shirts and bandannas. They were there for a Mass celebrated by Bishop Antoni Dziemianko, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Minsk, Belarus. Then the real work started: a 33- mile pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa run by the Salvatorian Fathers in Merrillville, Ind.

This was the 20th year for the pilgrimage, which emulates the annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Czestochowa in Poland, ending each year on Aug. 26, the feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa. It has been a labor of love for two decades for Salvatorian Father Jozef Zuziak.

Zuziak and other organizers see to the details of the gathering, including medical support and food for the pilgrims, many of whom carry icons and banners.

The walkers are mostly young people, said Michael Gibson, who helped coordinate the music for the event. However, each year, there are a number of older adults who also make the pilgrimage.

They cover the miles from Chicago to the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Munster, Ind., the first day, and then continue to the shrine in Merrillville the second day. The Mass that concludes the pilgrimage usually includes even more people, Gibson noted, because people come from Chicago to drive the walkers home.

The walkers celebrate Mass before spending the night on the grounds of the monastery. “They take up every square inch we have,” said Gibson.

For Gibson the walk is a sacrifice of time and effort, but one that is well worth it.

“It’s really uplifting,” said Gibson. “It’s awe-inspiring. It’s mainly immigrants and second-generation immigrants who are keeping up the tradition, and it makes you very optimistic about everything, especially about the young people.”