Firstly the shrine is just 15 kilometers from Wadowice where JP2 was born and where he grew up. In his remarks he mentioned the shrine many times. For some reason it never clicked in my head how close the places are to each other. He was able to visit the shrine very easily as a child with his father and later as a yon boy with his mates. I like thinking about those kids occupying themselves by going to the shrine. I myself was very excited that after 30 years I came to this church again. The last time I was here it was when I was in kindergarten.
Secondly the shrine is known not only for a magnificent church and miracles image of Mary but also for a prayerful environment pilgrims find here. The shrine is surrounded by a large reserve where many churches and chapels were built. They make what people call Paths of Jesus and Mary. Basically they are walking tracks with churches on the way commemorating events from the life of Our Lord and of Our Lady. The people who visit the place set out for this on-foot-prayer reflecting of the moments that have marked the destiny of the world and humankind so profoundly. Sometimes when we think about praying we look for a cozy room with reflective lightning and music, here a different message about prayer is given out: you pray not only with your mind but with your feet (as you need to walk up and down the hills surrounding the shrine) and hands as well (as sometimes you need to carry an umbrella). One cannot set up the surrounding but is challenged to accept the condition he finds during his visit. It may rain, snow, hail or burn. Even the fit people come back from the Paths exhausted. It is a powerful message that prayer isn’t a relaxation exercise but a challenge and determination. JP2 was known for his deep prayer life but it is worth noticing that he developed his prayer walking the Paths in this shrine. He was coming here as a young man and a priest, then as a bishop and a cardinal as well. When he had to make some difficult decision or face a challenging situation he could be found here in rain or snow or whatever the weather was. He was walking and praying here. His love for the shrine was proved by the fact that his last Mass in Poland was celebrated in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska before the image of Our Lady of Calvary.