Seventy monks and 180 supporters held off an invading army of 4,000
As we draw nearer to the celebration of World Youth Day next month, let us remember that this year’s patron saints were not only formed in a Christian culture devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, they were also raised in a country that crowned the Blessed Mother as “Queen” and whose people have since had a deep devotion to Our Lady.
In the year 1655, Swedish invaders had overrun Poland, but the only place they could not defeat was the monastery of Jasna Góra (“Bright Mount”), the sanctuary of the famous icon known as Our Lady of Częstochowa. During a 40-day siege of the small city “[s]eventy monks and 180 supporters held off nearly 4,000 Swedish soldiers.” The opposing army was forced to withdraw and in a year’s time the Polish army drove them out of Poland.
This miraculous event prompted King John II Casimir to dedicate the entire country to the protection of Our Lady. He made a solemn act on April 1, 1656, when he proclaimed, “Great Mother of God, Most Blessed Virgin, I, John Casimir, by the grace of your Son, King of kings and my Lord, and by your mercy, King, falling at your most holy feet, choose you for my Patroness and Queen of my countries. I entrust to your admirable care and protection my own self with my Kingdom of Poland.”
While visiting his homeland, Saint John Paul II explained how this particular shrine at Jasna Góra has come to express Poland’s love of the Blessed Mother and the strong bond Polish people have with her.
“The Poles are accustomed to link with this place, this shrine, the many happenings of their lives: the various joyful or sad moments, especially the solemn, decisive moments, the occasions of responsibility, such as the choice of the direction for one’s life, the choice of one’s vocation, the birth of one’s children, the final school examinations, and so many other occasions. They are accustomed to come with their problems to Jasna Góra to speak of them with their heavenly Mother.”
That intimate bond was only strengthened in the midst of great oppression and suffering, as John Paul II narrates in his homily.
“Before the Virgin of Częstochowa there was pronounced the consecration of Poland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on 8 September 1946. Ten years later the vows of King [John Casimir] were renewed at Jasna Góra on the 300th anniversary of the time when he … proclaimed the Mother of God Queen of the Polish Kingdom. On that anniversary began the great nine-year novena in preparation for the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland. Finally, in the year of the Millennium itself, on 3 May 1966, in this place the Primate of Poland pronounced the act of total servitude to the Mother of God for the freedom of the Church in Poland and throughout the world.”
One could say that devotion to Our Lady of Częstochowa is as essential to Polish culture as is devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. It is in the “blood” of the Polish people and has been passed down through the generations.
It should come as no surprise that the saints of Poland all had a deep and abiding love of Mary and were taught to bring their cares to her on a regular basis. Many homes have an image of Our Lady enthroned in a prominent place and John Paul II made sure an icon was present in his apartments at the Vatican. It is also very common in Poland to make an annual pilgrimage to Jasna Góra to place all of your needs and worries before her image.
Our Lady never ceases to bring her children closer to Jesus, and the history of Poland shows us how a nation dedicated to the Blessed Mother can raise some of the greatest saints of all time.