Co-authored by Chris Morales

June 2, 2014 (HLI) – Chicago and its surrounding cities are well known for their diverse collection of various ethnicities, and none among these is more prominent than the Polish. Home to the second-largest Polish population in the United States (after the New York Metro area), Chicagoland boasts countless Polish restaurants, cultural centers and Catholic parishes. We knew that when the From Ocean to Ocean Campaign in Defense of Life visited the Windy City, the pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, who is often referred to as the Queen of Poland, would receive a warm and joyful welcome.

We were not disappointed. Some of the largest crowds we’ve seen in America welcomed the Black Madonna at every stop. The pilgrim icon has traveled over 50,000 miles during this worldwide pro-life campaign, and has been venerated by hundreds of thousands and seen by millions. The Black Madonna is not only revered by Polish Catholics, but by all Eastern Christian Orthodox and Catholic traditions. As such, this campaign has been incredibly fruitful in uniting Christians of various ancient traditions in the effort of calling on the intercession of the Mother of God for her help in rebuilding a Culture of Life in the U.S., and around the world.

In the Life Mobile at St. Ferdinand Parish.

Lech and Ewa Kowalewski, leaders of Human Life International’s affiliate in Poland, are coordinating the worldwide “peregrination” (traveling pilgrimage) of the Black Madonna. As the writer of this icon, Ewa has particular insights into the spiritual battle that underlies the surface political and social battles around abortion, contraception and other assaults on life. We were very pleased when Lech and Ewa accepted our invitation to join the peregrination in Chicago, and help us to rally Poles and other faithful Christians to renew their devotion to Christ through His mother, our advocate.

Following is a brief summary of each of the events in the Chicago area, with links to articles on the campaign’s international website that have much more detail on each stop:

Our Lady’s first stop during the Chicago swing was St. Ferdinand Parish on May 10. We were honored to have the icon traveling from parish to parish throughout the archdiocese under the honorary chairmanship of His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago. This part of the pro-life pilgrimage was organized by Elizabeth Ceisel-Mikowska, President of the Society of Friends of the Foundation of John Paul II Chicago Chapter, who deserves a special recognition for her involvement and great assistance. Thanks to the dedication of the well-known carpenter and sculptor Mr. Jan (John) Slodyczka and his friend Stefan, the Black Madonna was very visible while traveling through the city because of a new “Life Mobile” constructed to hold the icon.

The emotional and generous reception by the St. Ferdinand community set the tone for the Chicago pilgrimage as a whole.

At St. Ladislaus.Next, we escorted Our Lady to the parish of St. Ladislaus where the Jesuit Fathers greeted the Black Madonna icon with their pastor, Father Mark Janowski, SJ, at the forefront. The parish teenage group of singers and dancers, called “Polonia,” added to the festivity of the occasion with their beautiful and extremely colorful traditional folk and nobility costumes. The solemn and exultant Mass was celebrated by Father Marian Kozina, SJ. During the homily, he spoke about how the Polish Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, known in Poland as the Primate of the Millennium, had started the peregrination of the Czestochowa icon through Poland, thus saving the faith of thousands during the most difficult times of the Communist regime.

At the Jesuit Millennium Center.

After another full day’s worth of events, on Monday evening, May 12, we arrived at the Jesuit Millennium Center (JOM). A thunderstorm was approaching and lightning was flashing as Our Lady rode in her new Life Mobile through the streets of Chicago. The rain, however, ceased for a moment so that the welcome ceremony could take place outside at the entrance to the church. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, broadcasted live by Radio Odeon, began at 7:05 p.m. The main celebrant was Father Joseph Birecki, SJ, the Superior of the center, joined by several other priests, including Father Jerzy Karpinski, SJ and Father Marian Kozina, SJ. Fr. Kozina gave the homily. Welcoming this wonderful guest in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Fr. Kozina noted that Our Lady is also known as the Help of the Afflicted. She always watches over her children, leading us to her Son, Jesus.

For the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, on the 97th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal, we were invited to St. Hyacinth’s Basilica Minor — one of the oldest parishes in Chicago. As at every stop before, people formed a long line to approach and venerate the icon. They were reciting the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary led by the parish priests. At 9 p.m., the traditional Jasna Góra Appeal was sung. The prayerful veneration continued till 5:30 a.m. At 6 a.m. the Holy Mass was celebrated in Polish, and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary was sung. The following two Masses and the one at noon were celebrated in English, and the homilies were given by Fr. Peter West.

St. Hyacinth’s Basilica Minor.

We next traveled to Holy Trinity Polish Mission where after the Holy Mass, the Jasna Góra Appeal was sung and the Act of Entrusting the Parish and Families to the Mother of God was renewed. A male choir sang “Bogurodzica” – the oldest Polish hymn to the Mother of God. At midnight, Mass was celebrated with the assistance of the “Vox Domini” music ensemble. Afterwards, the pastor presided over the expiation service and recited the Litany of Loreto. The all-night vigil was led by the members of the Live Rosary and the Knights of the Divine Mercy. The prayers continued throughout the night.

Parish of Our Lady of Częstochowa.

It is always very special when the Black Madonna can visit her namesake parish, as we did in Cicero. The parish of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Cicero Hawthorne, a district of Chicago, was founded in 1895 by Polish immigrants. Parishioners welcomed Our Lady in three languages. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated in English, but the language of the Liturgy oftentimes combined all three languages. The sermon was composed of three parts. The first, in English, was given by Fr. West who talked about the icon’s peregrination “From Ocean to Ocean” across the world in defense of life. He also talked about his personal experience of accompanying the Our Lady across 28 states in the U.S. The second part of the sermon was in Polish, given by Fr. Piękos from Radio Maria – Chicago. The third part was in Spanish, given by the pastor of the parish. After the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Ewa and Lech Kowalewski spoke about the plans for the next stages of the peregrination, including Mexico and various Latin American countries.

Pauline Fathers and community of St. Rosalie’s Church next welcomed Our Lady on Friday evening, May 16 in Harwood Heights on the outskirts of Chicago. Among the Pauline Fathers serving at this parish who came out to greet Our Lady was the Reverend Pastor Tadeusz Olzacki, OSPPE and Father Bogdan Olzacki, OSPPE. The pilgrim icon was carried into the church in a procession and placed carefully in the sanctuary on a pedestal covered with a beautifully embroidered lace tablecloth. The church was already filling out with the faithful, as others continued to stream in at the end of their work day. The faithful gathered began to pray the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.

We were then off to Willow Springs, and a fascinating scene was replayed as, on Saturday evening, May 17, Our Lady of Czestochowa arrived in her Life Mobile with the fluttering of the Papal, Marian, Polish, and American flags at the seat of the Cistercian Fathers in Willow Springs, IL. The Life Mobile stopped before the beautiful Shrine of Our Lady, the Mother of the Church – the “church on a hill.” Our Blessed Mother was surrounded by an escort of several Harley motorcyclists.

Picture a group of bikers, whose Polish riding club took the time to give Our Lady a roaring escort as she arrived to a solemn welcoming ceremony. Incredibly, this is, we believe, the fourth time this has happened during this peregrination – the first time being in Belarus!

After the farewell ceremony at the Polish Mission of the Cistercian Fathers in Willow Springs, we went to the nearby convent of the Dominican Sisters’ Immaculate Conception Province in Justice, where the sisters run a home for the elderly. It was Sunday evening on May 18 when Our Lady was escorted by the Reverend Pastor Michał Blicharski, OCist., assisted by several other vehicles. The Dominican Sisters, with their Mother Superior, Sr. Helena Cempa, OP, welcomed Our Lady joyfully in front of the entrance to their convent and carried the pilgrim icon into their beautiful chapel.

The following day, we left Chicago briefly for a stop in Batavia at the American Parish of the Holy Cross. The Black Madonna traveled in the Life Mobile because of the close proximity to Chicago. At times she became a sensation, particularly on the toll way. Some drivers tried to get as close as possible to take a photo of Our Lady with their cell phones.

On Tuesday, May 20 we brought the pilgrim icon to the parish of Saints Peter and Paul in Naperville – the oldest Catholic parish in the city. At 1:15 p.m., before the Pro-Life Rosary was recited, Elizabeth Carlos, who has been working with the organizers of the “From Ocean to Ocean” peregrination, gave a talk about the icon. She spoke about the significance and the history of the icon’s peregrination, emphasizing the main purpose of Our Lady’s pilgrimage: the preservation of people’s faith and the building up of the civilization of life and love. Later, a group from the Polish Friends of Naperville club and the Polish Helena Modrzejewska School in Naperville gathered in the church and began singing the Litany of Loreto in Polish, followed by other Polish Marian hymns and prayers. Many of the members of these Polish organizations are parishioners at Ss. Peter and Paul.

At the abortion clinic in Wood Dale.It is very common for the Black Madonna to be escorted to local abortion “clinics,” where lives are taken instead of saved, inspiring local prayer warriors to be steadfast and hopeful. On Wednesday, May 21, we brought the pilgrim icon to two abortion clinics and to an IVF center. Mr. Włodek Obruchta was driving the Life Mobile with Our Lady around the IVF clinic in circles while a group of people gathered around Fr. West who led them in a pro-life Rosary. Afterwards, Our Blessed Mother arrived at the Aurora clinic, the largest abortion mill in the state, which opened in 2007. All the churches in the area take turns sending parishioners to pray here. Later in the day we arrived at an abortion mill called “Advantage Clinic” in Wood Dale, IL. With the Black Madonna icon in their midst, people prayed for more than two hours in front of this abortion mill with great faith and trust that with the help of Our Blessed Mother, this place that kills children and hurts their mothers will be shut down permanently.

Our Lady was surely honored by the thousands of faithful who came out at all hours of the day and night, in good weather and bad, with hearts open and full of joy to greet the Mother of God. We are incredibly grateful to His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, the many faithful priests and pro-life prayer warriors who welcomed Our Lady and her escorts during this key stage of the pilgrimage. We pray that countless graces will flow from heaven, blessing the efforts to defend life and family and to reclaim a culture of life in this region.

Reprinted with permission from HLI