Every Sunday for six years, the famous shrine of the Polish pope has offered a mass specially dedicated to families, each time attracting a thousand faithful.
KRAKOW, Poland — Saint John Paul II used to say that the family is the heart of evangelization, the “first and most important way of the Church” and the “living cell of the great and universal family of humanity”.
The defense of the institution of the family was undoubtedly at the heart of the pontificate of the Polish pontiff, who dedicated his first synod to this subject in 1980, which then generated the famous apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortium.
It is precisely to honor this important legacy of the one who wanted to be remembered as the “Pope of the Family” that the Sanctuary of Saint John Paul II in Krakow (its historical diocese) decided six years ago years of launching the first Sunday mass. entirely dedicated to families.
Erected as part of the John Paul II Center “Do not be afraid! project (envisaged at the death of the pope by his former secretary, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, as a place to promote his spiritual heritage and completed in 2013), the shrine is considered the largest center of pilgrimage in the world around the Polish saint and includes important relics – such as his papal cross, his chasuble and a vial containing his blood. Its large area and capacity make it particularly suitable for large-scale celebrations.
A unique initiative
Thus, every Sunday morning at 11 a.m., the sanctuary welcomes an average of 1,000 people – half of whom are children – for the mass celebrated by Father Dariusz Chrostowski, a young priest who has made the evangelization of children the center of his apostolate. The celebration is accompanied by a choir and an orchestra made up entirely of parents.
In this vast and colorful sanctuary space, everything contributes to making families feel at home, right down to the choice of underfloor heating, which allows children to settle in comfortably and play all year round.
“This Mass is so convenient for us parents because we feel the children are welcome; they can be with other children and take care of each other,” Bartłomiej Szmyd, a regular at this family Mass since its inception, told The Register in an April 3 interview.
That day, as every time comes the time for the homily, the priest came down from the altar, while hundreds of children ran from all sides of the church to surround the ecclesiastic who was going to deliver them. the word of the Lord.
The reflections contained in the homily are intended to be accessible and didactic, in order to touch the minds and hearts of children. As Easter approaches, Father Chrostowski concentrates his catechesis on the duty of each Christian to look at his own faults before those of his neighbour.
To illustrate the Gospel of April 3 on Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, he presents the children with a mirror and a pane of glass, inviting them to look into their hearts before condemning a friend.
“It is a real delight for me to preach to children, because they have a natural faith; they don’t pretend. They don’t wear masks, they are deeply real, and that makes their hearts naturally open to the gospel message,” Fr. Chrostowski told The Register.
The custom also includes a weekly “Spirit Challenge” that all children can participate in by simply signing up for the initiative and pledging to take on the challenge in their personal lives. Each week, after a draw, one of the children taking part in the challenge receives a small yellow suitcase as a reward filled with gifts and sweets of all kinds. The winner then fills the suitcase with new gifts for the winner the following week. All are elements that make this Mass unique in its kind.
Touched by the incredible enthusiasm aroused by this initiative which brings together up to 4,000 people during the biggest celebrations of the year, Bishop Marek Jędraszewski of Krakow himself likes to preside at Mass whenever the opportunity arises. “The archbishop came to preach to the children for the feast of the Holy Trinity last year in June,” Father Tomasz Szopa, rector of the shrine since 2020, told the Register. “It is not easy to explain the theological concept of the Holy Trinity to the children, but the Archbishop quickly began to interact with the children, and their exchange was very profound.”
Building the society of tomorrow
For Father Szopa, the initiative owes its success to the special intercession of Saint John Paul II for his beloved Polish city.
“This Mass for Families is a true blessing for Krakow, and I will never forget the warm welcome these faithful families extended to me when I took office in the difficult context of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020,” he said, adding that the good fruits of this Mass transcend city borders, as many pilgrims converge on the Shrine to witness to the evangelizing power of this special weekly Mass.
“Everyone who comes here is impressed by what they see, by the whole atmosphere that surrounds the place,” Anna Aleksandrowicz, a mother of four who attends this mass every Sunday, told the Register. She and her husband, Timoteusz, are locally involved in the life of the Church and a few years ago founded Sursum Corda, a school of evangelization for all the faithful of the diocese. The couple – who have a particular devotion to Saint John Paul II, having met shortly after his death and married on his feast day, October 22 – see in this catechesis intended for children an excellent means of forming their conscience and prepare them to meet future challenges.
It is therefore, according to them, an indispensable investment of the Church to build society, beginning with the domestic Church, as Saint John Paul II would say.
“Children learn so much during these celebrations, especially because they can be independent,” added Anna Aleksandrowicz. “They are growing in spiritual maturity while bonding with clergy, and this can only have a lasting positive impact on lay-clergy relations; it’s so important in today’s world.