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Polish Catholics reaffirm faith with 33-mile march

Marchers carrying posters Polish Pope John Paul II copy Our Lady Czestochow icnear end their journey as they walk down

Marchers carrying posters of Polish Pope John Paul II and a copy of the Our Lady of Czestochow icon near the end of their journey as they walk down 58th in Merrillville on August 10, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 12, 2014 6:05AM



MERRILLVILLE — A seemingly endless sea of Polish Roman Catholics walked, sang and sweated as they ended their 33-mile pilgrimage at a Mass on Sunday on the grounds of the Salvatorian Fathers Monastery.

The monastery and church hall, at 5755 Pennsylvania St., is tucked into a shaded neighborhood, just a few blocks east of Broadway. Its St. Mary of Czestochowa sanctuary features a painting of Black Madonna, a famous icon in Poland, where people treasure its healing power.

The march, now in its 27th year, coincides with the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated Aug. 15.

Waving gold bandanas, the marchers made their way into the grounds at Salvatorian Fathers, where their family members waited for them and church members prepared a traditional Polish feast of kielbasa, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, mielony (meatballs), and schabowy (pork cutlet).

In all, more than 400 volunteers labored Sunday to back up the marchers.

“I did it to thank God for everything he’s done for me during the year,” said Dominika Blacha, 21, of Romeoville, Illinois, who marched with her mother, Barbara Blacha.

Dominika Blacha said she recently was accepted into nursing school and is thankful for her family.

The 33-mile journey from St. Michael Catholic Church in Chicago was filled with prayer, reflection and an occasional blister.

Blacha said Saturday was a hot day, but Sunday’s walk from the Carmelite Monastery in Munster was cooler.

At least 10 vehicles in the convoy follow the marchers, providing water, food and emergency care. The pilgrims spent the night at the Munster shrine, sleeping in tents outside or inside on sleeping bags.

Anna Cernick, of Plainfield, Illinois, said she walked with her brother on Saturday but became sidelined by a couple of blisters. She came to Salvatorian Fathers on Sunday with daughter Brianna, 8.

“The pilgrimage connects me with God and helps me find hope and meaning for life,” she said. “You can reflect on your life and the things that really matter. God is what really matters.”

Grzegorz “Greg” Kulaga, 19, of Schaumburg, Illinois, made the pilgrimage for the third time.

“I’m doing it for my mother, Anna,” he said. “I wanted to keep her company.”

The Rev. Rafal Ziajka, a priest at Salvatorian Fathers, bustled about, helping crews move supplies, while awaiting the marchers. Ziajka marched, as well, but left a little early to help out at the monastery.

“This is a tradition in the Roman Catholic Church,” he said. “People make the pilgrimage and walk to the shrines. At the beginning, they walked to tombs in Europe.”

Ziajka said the tears on the Black Madonna’s cheek reflect the painful separation many Polish families endure when they emigrate.

“For many Poles and those who are Roman Catholic, you may profess your faith in many ways. This says ‘I believe in God,’ ” he said.



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