Five U.S. soldiers embarked on a 10-day, 180 mile-long march to Poland’s Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa with hundreds of camouflaged soldiers from various nations on Tuesday. The shrine contains the icon of the Black Madonna, the creation of which tradition attributes to St. Luke.
The 300-year old pilgrimage has deep religious and patriotic significance in Poland and is expected to end before August 15, the Feast of the Assumption.
Many miracles have been attributed to the Black Madonna, which was brought to the Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa in 1384. During a 1655 siege, 70 monks and 180 supporters held off nearly 4,000 soldiers from the Protestant Swedish army, in a reputed miracle that inspired Poles to repel the invaders.
Before beginning the pilgrimage, soldiers attended an early morning Mass at the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army where a priest blessed them with holy water and then exhorted them to set a moral example during the march.
The purpose of the U.S. contingent’s participation in the pilgrimage, the Associated Press says, is to show solidarity with Poland, an ally in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Master Sgt. Roman Waldron, a 37-year-old soldier from Springfield, Illinois, told the Associated Press the event is a chance “to come together and share a little bit, and hopefully develop closer bonds with foreign militaries in a non-combat type setting.”
Sgt. 1st Class Evan Young, from Rock Island, Illinois, said “Originally when I was given the opportunity I thought it would be kind of a neat way to see Poland, but then I started doing research on the Black Madonna and the siege and I thought it's part of a much bigger thing.”
"It's pretty neat to be taking part in this, and help improve relations with Poland and other countries that are here," said Young, who grew up Episcopalian.
Only one of the five U.S. soldiers involved in the pilgrimage is Catholic.
The Archbishop of Warsaw Kazimierz Nycz walked briefly with the group of pilgrims on Tuesday.