I met a group from Bolivia in the house of the Sister Servants of Jesus on ul. Siemiradzkiego in Krakow. Their smiles would not leave their faces. At first I thought it was because of the ice cream they they were being served by the sisters, but it turned out that it’s their stay in Poland that inspired their happy moods.
They came to Krakow on Tuesday morning and they are not sure what to expect, but when it comes to what they have already experienced, they have one expression in mind: “muchas cosas!” For the group of fifteen people from the Diocese of Aiquile in Bolivia, that phrase was ultimately the only thing that fit the description of their program in Poland, in both the literal and figurative sense.
The group arrived here under the "command" of missionary priest Tomasz Denicki of the Diocese of Siedlce. Father Tomek has been working in Bolivia for four years and now has the opportunity to show "his children" (what he calls his group) his native country, Poland. As he pointed out, this excursion would not be possible if not for the generosity of the parishioners and the Diocese of Siedlce. Not only did they visit them before coming to Krakow, but they also completely paid for their stay in Poland, organizing various fundraisers to collect the money that was needed.
The pilgrims came to Poland through Madrid, two weeks before the start of World Youth Day. But it was not the capital of Spain that charmed their hearts, but Poland, which they are getting to know quite well.
The program for the tourists included a visit to Mazury. This was a great experience for everyone because they sailed for the first time and although it was raining, no one wanted to leave the deck. Additionally, there were canoe trips. After the lake trip, the group made its way to the Baltic Sea to the city of Gdansk. Here, too, they do not miss out on swimming in the sea, even though the temperature did not encourage such action. Due to the geographical location of Bolivia, these is no access to the sea, so it was an adventure that they refused to miss out on. They visited the Polish Baltic Sea on a pirate ship and danced a "tincus" – a traditional Bolivian dance – for vacationing beach-goers.
However, the group’s visit is not just a tour because, in the end, it is a spiritual pilgrimage. The group was preparing for their arrival in Poland even in Bolivia, partaking in catechesis and using the materials sent by the organizers. Also, their trips around Poland were interlaced with catecheses, meetings, and the Eucharist. The Bolivians also visited the Marian Sanctuary in Licheń.
For Sixto Sanchez, one of the participants, the most endearing part of the trip has been the hospitality of the Polish people. The longest stop for the group was in the Diocese of Siedlce in Łosice, where the Bolivians lived with families and where they were able to experience true Polish hospitality. “They treated us like daughters and sons. We experienced much kindness. Oftentimes, we would meet someone in town and they would invite us to dinner at a restaurant – priests, and one family from Gdansk. We know that in that way they wanted to help us. Similar things kept occurring. The hardest part was saying goodbye to our hosts in Łosice,” says Sixto. “We all cried and were upset that we had to leave.”
Sixto was asked a question regarding what he enjoyed most thus far and his response was everything ('Muchas cosas!'), but mostly the hospitality. He was also surprised by the fact that in Poland you eat so much pork, and in Bolivia it is hardly ever prepared. Furthermore, carbonated water is not produced in their country and it came as a surprise. Just like riding a train with seats is not seen in Bolivia. When we asked what he is expecting in the upcoming days, Sixto said he is looking forward to meeting other groups, but first and foremost, he expects to strengthen his faith and cannot wait to experience everything that the country and World Youth Day have to offer so he can return to Bolivia and tell everyone what has been bestowed on him.
Story and photos: Luiza Chrzanowska