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Letter from Wladek Wolochowicz on route with the Blessed Mother through Belarus

Dear Friends,

The international pilgrimage of the Czestochowa icon "From Ocean to Ocean" is currently traversing my country, Belarus. We have already been in Polotsk, Lida, Grodno, Brest, Baranoviche, and in countless villages. The icon is currently in Minsk. This special endeavor is being led by a group of defenders of life, which I would like to call the "Fellowship of the Icon" analogous to the "Fellowship of the Ring." This "Fellowship" is composed of the very practical and friendly Orthodox Priest Fr. Pawel Serdiuk--Director of the "Matula" Center for Helping Families and Pregnant Women; Igor Beloborodov--Director of the Institute of Demographic Research in Moscow, who as coordinator has been travelling with the icon since it left Vladivostok; Svetlana Mozgunova--doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, head of the Obstetrics-Gynecology Department of the Medical School in Borisov; Tatyana Tarasewicz- associate at the Center for Educational Development at Belarus State University; and me, the director of the "Open Hearts" Foundation.

Our brotherhood not only transports the icon and members of our group in two minibuses, but also conducts educational meetings for health service workers, teachers, and social workers in those cities where the Mother of God stops. Because of that, we are able to gather all defenders of life in Belarus, all healthy Christian forces, in order to build together a civilization of love and to defend our families from present day threats.

I am the only Catholic in our group; the rest are Orthodox. This shouldn't be surprising as this pilgrimage in Belarus is taking place at the invitation of the Orthodox Church. Thus, the Czestochowa icon is going from one Orthodox church to another. Major Catholic involvement will not take place until 27 July, the last day of the pilgrimage in Belarus, when a meeting is planned with several thousand Catholic youth who are meeting in Ivienets.

The minibus of the "Open Hearts" foundation has been converted into a chapel on wheels. Amazingly, it happened that the icon fit perfectly into this vehicle. I have a feeling inside that it was purchased by the foundation thanks to gifts from ordinary people, precisely for the purpose of driving the Blessed Mother around Belarus. It is a surprise gift of God. I am the main driver of the minibus, and thus from my point of view this pilgrimage is an absolutely amazing event. Among other things, it is very interesting for me to get to know the traditions of the Orthodox Church, which we Catholics are not really familiar with.

The reception of the icon by the Orthodox faithful has made the greatest impression on me. Whenever the vehicle pulls up to a church which is one of the planned stops for the icon, bells ring, people fall on their knees creating an incredible line in order to let the priests carry the icon to them. At times, people literally approach the icon on their knees. Little girls toss flowers, apparently a very ancient orthodox tradition. As the vehicle bearing the icon is leaving, people cry and follow along behind the vehicle. It even happened that people who arrived late begged that the vehicle stay for at least another minute so that they could touch the icon, as they say "be applied to it", to experience its presence. Such expressions of their faith make an overwhelming impression, especially considering that 20 years ago even going to church was absolutely forbidden in our country, and the majority of churches were converted into warehouses or museums.

In some towns, people didn't learn the icon of the Mother of God was coming until literally the last minute. But everywhere, word of mouth worked remarkably well, and when we arrived the churches were full of people. In one case, we were delayed so long that we didn't arrive at the church until 2 o'clock at night. Would you believe, the church was still full of people who continued to pray while they awaited our arrival. Nobody went home!

The remarkable journey of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa brings something new every day. As a result, despite our great exhaustion we joyfully greet each new day of the pilgrimage, when we meet many more enthusiastic people who want to become involved in the cause of the defense of life. Up to now, there has never been such a great promotion of and involvement in the movement to defend life in Belarus.

Władysław Wołochowicz

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