Father Wieslaw Lenartowicz is a parish priest in Radom, a Polish city known in the United States for its gun factory, which used to produce the famous VIS pistol, sought after by collectors.
“Vis” is Latin for strength. Could that explain Father Lenartowicz’s
temperament? He is an active Knights of Columbus member and motorcycle
enthusiast, always looking for new charity and pastoral projects.
During the EWTN coverage of World Youth Day in Krakow, I looked down
from the television risers at the “Field of Mercy” and saw Father
Lenartowicz below, taking a nap, surrounded by pilgrims from around the
world gathering for the evening Mass with Pope Francis. When he woke up,
we had a chat. He was really tired, he explained, because he had just
arrived from Rome on foot — he had walked the 1,100 miles to Krakow.
Via Misericordia — the “Merciful Way” — is his newest
project: to blaze a trail to a new pilgrimage route from St. Peter’s
Basilica in Rome to the Divine Mercy Shrine in Krakow.
I had to find out more, so I met with Father Lenartowicz and some of
his Knights of Columbus friends and pilgrimage companions in his parish a
couple of months after World Youth Day.
“This year,” Father Lenartowicz explained, was “very rich in
jubilees. The whole thing started with my own jubilee: my 50th birthday
and 25 years of priesthood. So I thought I would make a pilgrimage. I
would start with the usual pilgrimage to Czestochowa, and as the
pilgrims go back to Radom, I would continue on to Krakow. And Marek, one
of my parishioners, says, ‘Why go it alone? This year is also the 10th
anniversary of the Knights of Columbus in Poland, so the knights should
go with you.’”
“But if we’re to go as a group, we should not celebrate my birthday,”
the priest replied. “We should dig deeper. It is, after all, the Year
of Mercy and the anniversary of the Knights and 1,050th anniversary of
Christianity in Poland — and then there is all the work we have to do
with World Youth Day.”
“So everyone was saying, ‘Let’s do it before World Youth Day, and
let’s start in Rome; after all, the Pope is inviting everyone to Krakow,
not to Rome,’” he recalled.
foundation of the Church is in Rome, but the heart is Krakow. The great
saints of Krakow made their pilgrimages to Rome, following this
historic route: Via Slavorum, the ‘Way of the Slavs,’” he
added. “The first stage would follow the ‘Way of St. Francis’ (from Rome
to Assisi), which joins the ‘Way of St. Anthony’ to Padua, Venice and
beyond, just to the foothills of the Alps.”
He continued to detail the route: “Through the mountains, we head to
the Marian Shrine of Mariazell in Austria; there are several pilgrimage
routes there, including St. Emma’s. Then we go from Mariazell to Vienna,
following the well-marked Via Sacra.”
Coming next: “Olomouc in the Czech Republic, where St. John Sarkander
was martyred. Then we headed to Auschwitz, Wadowice, Kalwaria
Zebrzydowska and the Divine Mercy Shrine in the Lagiewniki area of
Krakow. This could be called the ‘Papal Way.’”
“We did not simply take the shortest route between Rome and
Lagiewniki, but followed shrines and walked through some 50 doors of
mercy,” the priest emphasized.
Each day, the pilgrims walked for 19 to 28 miles, praying the “Pompeii Novena”
— more than two hours a day of praying the Rosary, carrying with them
the intentions of parishioners and Knights of Columbus members.
As Marek Podlewski from Council 14004 recalled, “The first week to 10
days was difficult; of course, the blisters had to appear, but they
went away after about 10 days, and our bodies got used to it after that.
After a month and a half on the road, you realize how many unnecessary
things you own — clothes, everything.”
“Another important experience is that of humility towards others. As
we walk together for a long time, with our different ways of seeing
things, we learn mutual tolerance,” he continued. “It is a beautiful
experience: that every man is an individual, whose way of life, behavior
and worldview should be respected. We have managed to achieve that, and
that was fantastic.”
The pilgrims felt the support of friends back home: More than 2,000
people were in touch with them through Facebook, assuring them of their
Said one note: “Greetings from Radom, from all the knights from
Council 14004 and others. We are rooting for you and remember you in
daily prayers. … My daughter said: ‘Dad, this pilgrimage is fantastic.
We have to go.’ ‘Maybe next year?’ I answered. We wish you
And one of Father Lenartowicz’s parishioners fasted throughout the duration of the pilgrimage.
“Most of the time, people we met could not understand what we were
doing,” Father Lenartowicz recalled, “why we insisted on walking. It was
typical that, when we were asking for directions, people would tell us
where the nearest bus stop is: ‘Your destination is very far; it makes
no sense to walk there.’”
“Now, looking back at the distance that we covered in about 45 days,
19-28 miles a day, spending the nights at parishes or in a tent, we
would recommend that those who decide to follow Via Misericordia should split the route into four stages, in order to slow down and take in the sights and sites,” he said.
“First stage: Rome to Florence, following in the footsteps of St.
Francis; then the second one in the footsteps of St. Anthony, to reach
the Alps (this part can be also easily done on a bicycle); the third
stage, from northern Italy through Mariazell to Vienna; and the final
380 miles from Vienna to Krakow. Or you could do the short version (like
the last 100 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela) just within Poland
in about five days, starting in Auschwitz to see the museum on the site
of the concentration camp — there we experience the evil that man can
perpetrate. Then we walk to Wadowice, where the Pope [John Paul II] was
born, who was raised without a mother; so he had to share the experience
of the modern world’s common problem of an incomplete family, but was
told by his father that Our Lady was his mother. Then the pilgrimage
site of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, of which John Paul was so fond, and then
to Krakow to discover that city’s saints — Faustina, John Paul II,
Albert Chmielowski and Bishop Stanislaus the Martyr — and arrive in
Lagiewniki just in time for the Divine Mercy Chaplet.”
He emphasized the importance of prayer throughout the journey: “We
really would like this to be a spiritual pilgrimage. You do not have to
walk the 1,000 miles. It is enough to go out and walk and pray. It is
not about breaking any records.”