If there is one big draw card to this part of Poland, it is the little town of Wadowice, an hour’s drive from Krakow and famous for being the birthplace of Pope John Paul II. And here is his birthplace:
Yep. Being renovated. Fortunately, there is a temporary museum to the life of the man who would eventually become John Paul II round the corner. Now, before I continue, let us get this straight. I know people may or may not like the Catholic church, the last Pope, etc. But this is Poland and insulting John Paul II is like insulting Churchill in Britain, Washington in the US or Gandhi in India. So if you don’t like him then simply avoid this town. However if you are curious to know about the man who arguably is the greatest Pope of modern times (and certainly one of the most iconic figures of the Twentieth Century), then a visit to Wadowice reveals a fascinating insight into the man himself.
Basically, the lowdown on Wadowice is this. The town has nothing of interest if you do not care about the life or times of John Paul II. Really, it is just another Polish town, albeit one that is actually quite pretty. However, if you want to know about the previous Pope, then this really is the place to come. The amount of history here is great, without having the feeling of being a theme park. The actual town is quite tasteful and does not live off the relics of John Paul alone, but seems to also function (rather successfully) as a commuter suburb of nearby Krakow as well. So if you want an essence of the history of John Paul II, then visit Wadowice. If you are looking for something else then stick in Krakow, there is plenty to do in that town…
There is a lot of history about the Pope online. Here’s the wiki link. Far more than I can type in here. But one of the things I loved about going to Wadowice was to get an idea of the man who led a billion Catholics for almost a quarter of a century. You understood why he hated communism so much, why he was so passionate about it. Again why he always sided with the oppressed. You also learned a little about why the man was determined, almost to the point of stubbornness. Life in Poland now is not exactly a bed of roses, but at the time of his youth it was a Nazi hell hole. Then a communist one. And everything, anything that he held dear was stripped away by these forces of, well, evil.
It is not an understatement to link Poland with Catholicism. It is a part of the country’s identity. It is its faith that (rightly or wrongly, after all I come from a very secular country) has been a constant part of the national identity. And for the young man known as Karol Józef Wojtyła until he became the Pope, it would be the church that would have such a strong influence on his life, and ultimately an influence for many millions around the world. Oh, and yes, this was his local church, which is located next door to the house he grew up in.
Wadowice itself is not a bad town, especially in winter when there are not that many tourists around. It is small, but has everything that you need. Perfectly pleasant, and as I managed to get there on a sunny day, all the better!
Wadowice is an hour’s coach ride away from Krakow and there is a lot to do here if you want to find out about the Pope. You can also catch the plentiful minibuses that ply between Wadowice and Krakow.
The childhood house, although being refurbished will be reopened in 2012. For now there is the temporary museum where a very patient nun will give you a ticket and tell you a little about the house’s rebuilding. There is also a museum of the town itself, opposite the house of the young Karol and this is a fantastic place to go. It really sets the context of where Karol Wojtyła grew up, of his town and of the people that surrounded him. For me, this gave far more insight into the man himself.
The Basilica next door to the old house is always open and is stunning inside:
There are also plenty of places around the town of Wadowice, in the outskirts and throughout the surrounding countryside that relate to the life if the Pope. If you are serious about taking some sort of pilgrimage here, then one day is just about enough to see what the town has to offer, but two or three will allow you to see the countryside that he roamed as a young man, and to get a better understanding of the place.