by Katie Hyde
Special to The Leaven
The small town of Wadowice, about an hour outside of Krakow, brims with the history of its most famous resident: St. John Paul II. During their second day in Poland, pilgrims from the archdiocese were able to tour his childhood home, visit the church where he was baptized, and even try his favorite dessert.
They were able to touch the baptismal font where he entered the faith, see the bed where he slept and walk through the kitchen where he broke bread.
For many pilgrims for whom St. John Paul II’s papacy extended through most of their lifetimes, visiting Wadowice was a surreal experience.
For Sister Karolyn Nunes, FSGM, traveling to Wadowice carried special meaning: She is his namesake.
Though taking the name of Karol Wojtyla was not Sister Karolyn’s first choice when she joined the order of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in 2006, she has since been inspired to live with the same faith and compassion that characterized the saint’s papacy.
“I feel like he chose me,” said Sister Karolyn. “I see now that God is calling me to grow into that identity and to walk in the footsteps of this great saint.”
Though this was Sister Karolyn’s second time visiting Wadowice, this year’s visit held special significance, as her namesake was declared a saint in 2014.
As soon as she walked into the church where St. John Paul II was baptized, she was moved to tears.
“When I was here before, he was still pope,” said Sister Karolyn. “This time, he was with me as a saint. I felt he was right there with me.”
“It is so incredible to be in the church where he was baptized, where he received his first Communion, where he was confirmed,” she continued. “While I was there, I prayed for his same courage, hope and zeal.”
The experience of visiting Wadowice was similarly powerful for many other pilgrims.
“We got a taste of what formed him: the deep faith of his community,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann during his homily at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska following the visit to Wadowice.
“He had a life of tragedy and could have become very bitter,” Archbishop Naumann continued. “But instead of becoming bitter, he was filled with gratitude and hope. He was a beacon of hope for the whole world.”
Carter Zielinski, a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and a parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Leawood, echoed Sister Karolyn’s and Archbishop Naumann’s amazement at walking in the footsteps of St. John Paul II.
“It’s pretty surreal,” he said. “It puts flesh on his life and upbringing. He lived in a parish, received sacraments like we all do. He grew up in a human way.”
Experiencing the humanity of such an inspirational saint stuck with many pilgrims, especially the younger generation who are too young to remember him as pope.
“Whenever you think of the saints, you don’t think of them as real people,” said Eleanor Melero, a parishioner of St. Joseph-Immaculate Conception in Leavenworth. “But to see his house and where he grew up made me realize that he didn’t come out of the womb a saint.”
“It makes me realize that a deeper relationship with God is possible,” she said.
Many pilgrims, including Archbishop Naumann, were also able to connect with the former pope in another way: They sampled kremowka, his favorite Polish dessert, at a local bakery in Wadowice.