Follow the tracks of John Paul - all aboard the Pope train through Poland
This week marked the second anniversary of Pope John Paul the Second's death, as well as the completion of the first stage of his beatification process. Pole's adored their Pope while he was alive and now that he's gone, they're finding new ways to hold onto him. Visitors to Poland can now take a train and follow the tracks John Paul made in his homeland.
There's a lot of Pope John Paul the 2nd memorabilia out there- 3D postcards, glow-in-the-dark candles, cartoonishly oversized pens. You get the idea - they're not exactly what would you call dignified ways of honoring the Pope. Now there's a new item to add to the long list of Pope items out there. And it's decidedly different. The Papal Train is a special service offered by the Polish national railway. Adam is a conductor on the train and explains the Papal Train rides the rails between Krakow and Wadowice - where John Paul was archbishop on the way to being pope, and the small town in which he grew up.
Ironically enough for a train honoring a man some consider the very paragon of conservatism, the gold-colored Papal Train is the sleekest, most modern train in Poland.
Krzylek: "I was really shocked when I saw all these technical things all around, all the TV screens."
Passengers like Krzylek ride in a train that doesn't just look special on the outside. Inside are surprisingly elegant interiors sporting the Vatican colors of blue and yellow. Mounted from the ceiling throughout the train are screens showing highlights from the Pope's famous speeches and visits homes, bits of TV shows featuring painfully cute kids singing some of his most beloved songs.
Bogdan is another conductor on the train and says "this train is profitable."
But this classy train, with its reverent message, is prone to the demand for Papal memorabilia. On board one can buy postcards with pictures of the train and books about the life of the Pope. But for some, that's not enough. Even the conductors, with their bright Vatican-yellow neckties embroidered with the Polish National Rail logo, have caught the attention of the souvenir hungry...
Bogdan:"One day there was a group from Chicago. One of them, it was man, man wanted to buy our yellow tie" he laughs.
Riding the Papal train is really unlike any train trip in Poland. It's more like joining in on a party - a really emotional one that take can take you off guard. The train's guestbook is a testament to that. Passengers from all over the world have filled the pages with comments such as..
"An emotional journey, very moving to visit Wadowice, it was a very special day. God be with the people of Poland in the future" writes Marie Clare from Dublin, Ireland.
Passengers aren't the only ones feeling moved by their train trip. The train's employees, like Bogdan, are feeling it too.
"It's different, a special job, working here. I feel chosen here, working here."
Having a Polish pope was such a big deal for Poles, a kind of coup. He personified the Polish struggle for identity, the fight to rid the country of communism, fights in a lot of ways he won. For many in the world, John Paul II was the pope who was stubbornly stuck to old Catholic doctrine especially around ideas of reproduction and the role of women. In his homeland, though, the Polish Pope is remembered as the one who told jokes in the Vatican, who loved to ski in the Tatra mountains, who regularly invited folk musicians from the Polish highlands to play at papal celebrations, who loved his country.
Statues, monuments, movies, and now a train dedicated to the memory of the Polish Pope - it's the making of a national myth. The Papal Train runs daily to do its part to keep the story going.