Holy Father Blesses New Shrine and Spends Two Nights

by Patrick Novecosky

When Pope John Paul II came to Lichen in the summer of 1999, it was a double blessing for the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

Not only did the Holy Father bless the new Shrine of Our Lady of Lichen, which the Congregation began building in 1994, but he also honored the Marians by staying two nights at the monastery there.

Having the pope stay at the Marians' house was a humbling experience, Fr. Adam Boniecki, MIC, the outgoing Superior General of the Congregation, told Marians gathered for the blessing of the Shrine. He compared it to the time when Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, the head of tax collectors in Jericho, that He would stay at his house (see Lk 19:5-6).

"Never before, since the founding of our Congregation in 1673, has a pope stayed in one of our monasteries," Fr. Adam explained.

The Holy Father arrived at the Marians' Lichen monastery on the evening of June 6. The following day he blessed the Shrine, which is still under construction, in front of about 300,000 pilgrims.

"I am thankful for being able to meet you on this beautiful and picturesque hill," he said to pilgrims and the Marians, "amid fields and woods, to bless this new church in honor of the Mother of God.

"I look with admiration upon this large building, which in its architectural richness is an expression of faith and love for Mary and her Son. Let us give thanks to God for this church! "Gratitude is due also to the guardians of this Shrine, the Marian Fathers, who for years have taken care of it and have faithfully served the pilgrims."

Brother Andrew Maczynski, MIC ("Father Joseph, MIC") -- who served the pilgrims at Lichen several years before emigrating to the United States -- said he was overjoyed and moved to tears, seeing the Holy Father on the property where he once lived.

"It was hard to believe that he was there," said Br. Andrew, "and that he finally arrived where the Marians have served for more than 50 years."

"When I worked at Lichen," explained Br. Andrew, "it was hard for us to provide for the pilgrims. It was very small, very poor. But I have observed this place grow from practically nothing. It's amazing to see the Vicar of Christ in our little, humble spot that has grown up to take its place as a beautiful new Shrine of Our Lady and now the largest church in all of Poland. "

The new Shrine is the 7th biggest church in Europe, and the 11th largest in the world. Its roots go back to the early 1800s when a dying Polish soldier, fighting for Napoleon in Germany, saw a vision of Our Lady. She reportedly told him to find an image of her and to display it where it could be venerated by the faithful. Upon his recovery and return to Poland, he found the image of Our Lady and placed it in the woods near his home, close to Lichen.

Then, in 1850, a local shepherd had a vision of Our Lady while he was pasturing cattle near the image. The current Shrine was built eight years later, and the image's fame grew. The Marians took over the Shrine in 1949. Construction of the new Shrine began in 1994. It will seat 7,000 people when it is completed. The square in front of the Shrine holds 250,000.

During the Holy Father's final evening in Lichen, the miraculous image of Our Lady was placed in his private chapel at the Marians' monastery.

In blessing the Shrine earlier that day, His Holiness called upon the faithful to look to Mary as the model disciple who believed that God's word would be fulfilled.

"Mary's faith reminds us of the faith of Abraham, who, at the beginning of the Old Covenant, believed in God," he said. "This is the greatness and the perfection of Mary's faith, in the presence of which, Elizabeth uttered words of amazement.

"Calling Mary 'blessed among women,' Elizabeth shows that Mary was blessed thanks to her faith. Elizabeth's exclamation, filled with wonder, is for us an exhortation to learn to appreciate what Mary's presence brings to the life of every believer."

Not only was the Holy Father's stay in Lichen a first for the Marians, but on the morning after his second night at the monastery, the Holy Father spent about 15 minutes meeting with more than 300 members of the Congregation.

"It was a very memorable moment for us," said Br. Andrew. "It was the largest gathering of Marians in our history. The outgoing Superior General greeted the pope on our behalf and expressed our love, obedience, and gratitude to him as the Vicar of Christ. He also explained how we Marians had come from all over the world for this event."

The pope then expressed his gratitude to the Marians for their hospitality and for being such good hosts for the two nights of his stay. He gave his apostolic blessing to the Marians and posed with them for a photo before departing.

Father Dan Papineau, MIC, who was ordained last December, said this meeting with the pope will always be a special memory for him. When the pope was moving into position for the photo with the group of Marians, Fr. Dan was directly behind the pope and touched him on the shoulder.

"That's a profound gift. I'll be forever grateful to God for that moment," Fr. Dan said. "He's a truly holy man, and to be that connected to the spiritual leader of the Church inspires me profoundly."

During the time he spent with the Marians, the Holy Father was in great spirits, Br. Andrew said. "As he drove away, he had a big smile on his face. We were singing our Marian hymn, Mater Dei Immaculata."

In addition to the events with the Holy Father, the gathering at Lichen was a time of bonding for the Marians, said Fr. Joseph Roesch, MIC, Vicar and Prefect of Formation for the St. Stanislaus Kostka Province.

"About half of the entire congregation was there -- that in itself was historic," explained Fr. Roesch. "And there was a real feeling of brotherhood, of bonding with these members of the Congregation who had gathered from all over the world.

"One of the most memorable moments for me was the first time I was in the dining room in Lichen eating dinner with Marians from all over the world," Fr. Roesch said. "It was a wonderful feeling of solidarity with my brothers, many of whom I did not know and could not even communicate with since I do not speak Polish. And yet, they are my brothers in a deeply spiritual way because of our vows and our joining the Marian family. We are all sons of Mary Immaculate."

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