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South Texas Living


Texas tourists find Polish roots


Texas tourists find Polish roots
Many pilgrims walked to Gora Sw. Anny for the outdoor Mass. These pilgrims, dressed in traditional attire, hold a banner that commemorates their 30th year of annual pilgrimages to the site.


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Elaine Mazurek Stephens
Special to the Wilson County News
September 5, 2012
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This is the first of two articles, based on a trip this summer for a group of tourists from Texas to Poland. Watch for Part II in the next issue of the Wilson County News.

Building bridges between Texas and the region of Silesia, Poland, has been an ongoing adventure for travelers with the Father Leopold Moczygemba Foundation, who have been journeying across the ocean yearly. This year 43 travelers, led by foundation president Monsignor Franciszek Kurzaj -- “Father Frank,” as he’s affectionately known -- a native of Silesia and now a priest in San Antonio, explored the land of their ancestors, where many of them found much more than just names on a headstone.

The Poland-bound travelers arrived first in Berlin for a tour including the Berlin Wall and the historic Checkpoint Charlie. The next 11 days they traveled via Sinbad Busline, passing through Lusitia, the eastern part of Germany and homeland of the Wendish people, into Silesia, in present-day Poland.

The first night in Poland was in Wroclaw, the 1,000- year-old capital of Silesia. After a city tour, they visited a museum exhibiting a room-sized panoramic painting depicting the 1794 battle between the Russians and Poles, with Gen. Tadeusz Kosciuszko leading the Poles. A short drive took them to Trzebnica, to the baroque Sanctuary of St. Hedwig to pray at her tomb. It was in honor of this saint, a Silesian princess, that St. Hedwig, Texas, was named.

Continuing on, they visited Nysa -- the “Silesian Rome” -- to visit the gothic St. Jacob Church and pray at the tomb of the Blessed Maria Merkert, foundress of the Congregration of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth. Across the plaza, they visited St. Francis Church to meet Father Frank’s seminary professors, and finished the day at the St. Peter and Paul Church for dinner prepared by the seminary, now a retreat center.

For the next five days, the tour group stayed in Slawiecice, Father Frank’s birthplace. From there, they traveled to Czestochowa to pray at the Shrine of the Black Madonna. Sunday found them at Gora Sw. Anny, where they participated in an outdoor Mass with 10,000 faithful people, many of them pilgrims who walked miles to attend. Participating in the procession of pilgrims were the travelers from Texas, holding a Panna Maria sign, recognized by many as the first Polish settlement in Texas.

The next day, the group visited the Shrine of San Jacinto in the town of Kamien Slaski, where they were welcomed by Archbishop Emeritus Alfons Nossol of the Diocese of Opole. Later in the week, they were received by Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Kusz in the Gliwice Diocese.

A refreshing day for the summer travelers included a ski-lift ride in the cool Beskid Slaski mountains. At the top, they were greeted with music by a local folk band and homemade pastries prepared by Polish friends. The alpine view was exciting, as was shopping in the nearby town of Wisla, which was hosting a folk-life festival. Later, they were surprised to visit a Texas cowboy theme park in Zory, called Miasteczko Twinpigs, which showcased a first--class rodeo.

An especially fun visit was to Tychy, home of the Tyskie Brewery, where they learned about the brewery’s 400-year-old history of beer making in the same location. A sampling of the product was a treat few declined. However, some of the best treats were yet to come.

Elaine Mazurek Stephens is of Polish descent. She is a La Vernia resident, member of the Greater La Vernia Chamber of Commerce, and the president of the La Vernia Historical Association.
 

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