Wadowice: Birth Place of a Pope

Among the key figures of the 20th century is the late Pope, John Paul II. He not only was a giant in the Catholic religion but his role in the fight in his country against Communism (and with consequences in the rest of Eastern Europe at that time) was pivotal to big change. We took a short trip to the town of his birth and childhood, Wadowice, to learn more about his early life and the town that saw him grow.

John Paul II statue in his hometown of Wadowice, Poland

As far as transport, mini-buses and regular buses depart Krakow, where I was visiting, with regularity. The former from a non-descript parking lot across from the Galeria Krakowska (a regular shopping mall) (the tourist info office pointed us to it). The latter from the bus station on the other side of the mall. There is also a Pope train but it seems not to be running or not in the day we were going, one of those details beyond my tourist Polish…

Going on regular bus has the added advantage that it will stop at the bus station of the town you want whereas a mini-bus requires you knowing what stop to get off on (which is hard if you have never been to the place). Unfortunately, we went over in a mini-bus… So once the time was close to get to Wadowice, I kept my eyes peeled on the approaching town and then just asked for Wadowice centrum to let the driver know where I needed him to stop (in a mini-bus you have to tell them to stop by walking to the front).

Once in town, things were pretty easy. It wasn’t as small a town as I expected but not big either. We immediately ran into the tourist info office where we oriented ourselves to the key sites to visit. Being that it was still early, we decided to first try one of the famous Wadowice cream cakes. The Pope apparently greatly enjoyed them as a kid and they came back in fashion either when he became a bishop, cardinal, or Pope. Wow, loaded with fat and calories but absolutely delicious [did I already say good eats??]. A touch of brandy nearly makes them heaven on earth!

Cream cake, the favorite of Pope John Paul II as a kid

First off, we visited the apartment where he was born and lived most of his childhood. It was moving for me to see the pictures of this kid who would come from this town to be one of the top figures of his time. Seeing the room where he was born with a picture of him as a baby was special. The apartment-come-museum is fairly small and well signed in English (not always true in places I’ve visited in the country). Much to my surprise, it was free though I’m finding out that is not uncommon for religious sites here (Jasna Gora in Czestochowa was also free). Oh, and we had to wear big old slippers over our shoes – since I was wearing my boots, they didn’t really fit so I had to slide over the floor instead of taking steps. I found myself still doing that shuffle at the museum next door (after taking the slippers off an hour or so before!).

Side of the building where Pope John Paul II was born in Wadowice, Poland

Side of the building where Pope John Paul II was born

Room where Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) was born in Wadowice, Poland

Room where Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) was born

We then visited the main church where he served as an altar boy and where he was baptized. It clearly has been renovated since he became Pope as it has acquired preeminence given the ties to him. (His childhood bedroom faces the church.) We got there during daily Mass (which is always a “short” Mass, 20-30 mins depending on the church) and it was fairly full but that could be because it was the holiday for the patron saint of Poland. The interior of the church was actually one of the prettiest I’ve yet seen in Poland.

Main church where Karol Wojtyla served as an altar boy in Wadowice, Poland

Main church where Karol Wojtyla served as an altar boy

We walked around town on this winter day and enjoyed seeing life going on as well as the side streets and buildings.

Around the main square in Wadowice, Poland

Around the main square

Side street in Wadowice, Poland

Side street

Around the main square in Wadowice, Poland

Around the main square in Wadowice

On the way back, we took a regular bus (about 60 cents more expensive). The buses, though, have more space and better windows to see the views along the route. The countryside in this part is more developed than I expected but we did pass some forests and saw beautiful rolling hills, some still with snow on the ground from a few days ago.

I don’t know if non-Catholics (or non-history-aficionados) would find Wadowice interesting enough to take the side trip but for me it was most definitely a special journey to make. It reminds me that any child has potential for greatness no matter the circumstances of their childhood.

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