Individualized pilgrimage marks new Polish spirituality

A form of individualized and demanding pilgrimage for young adults has rapidly spread across Poland, replacing Marian-based pilgrimages and devotions, according to an article in the journal Religion, State and Society (vol. 46, no. 2). Known as the “Extreme Way of the Cross,” the spiritual discipline involves participants’ making exhaustive treks across designated routes as they read meditations on the Passion of Christ. Launched in 2009 by Father Jacek Stryczek, the practice has been called a “new form of spirituality” and has become a nationwide phenomenon, with more than 400 routes and 52,000 registered participants in 2017 (up from 11,000 in 2015), writes Konrad Siekierski. The devotion is based on Stryczek’s ideas about creating Catholic men and women (the practice was originally intended for young men) who display virtues such as “commitment, diligence, resourcefulness, asceticism, and striving for self-improvement.” Although Stryczek’s teachings have been criticized for baptizing success and capitalism, the Extreme Way of the Cross has been supported by Church leaders and was actively promoted at World Youth Day in Poland in 2016, which featured Pope Francis.

The Extreme Way of the Cross, held in its collective form during Holy Week or walked alone, is different from other pilgrimages as the accent is taken off its social and collective nature and put on the individual’s journey and his or her spiritual life. The practice is similar to the Lutheran pilgrimages in Sweden, which share its rule of silence, meant to help practitioners “formulate their own theology,” and it stresses the human body in movement and its exertion rather than arriving at a destination, such as with the popular Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. The Extreme Way of the Cross “is an example of a modern Catholic devotional practice that abandons the mediation of the Virgin Mary, who otherwise has become the main focal point of popular Catholic piety, particularly in times of crisis.”

(Religion, State and Society,