- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

KRAKOW, Poland — Two years after the death of Pope John Paul II, pilgrims are flocking to retrace his life from the comfort of a train that takes them to his Polish birthplace.

“Welcome aboard the Totus tuus papal train from Krakow to Wadowice and back,” sang out guard Wojciech Zbroinski, whose uniform of white shirt and yellow tie matched the Vatican colors of the rail car.

The train, named after a Latin prayer to the Virgin Mary that was the pontiff’s motto, has become a staple on the growing “JPII” pilgrim and tourist circuit in Poland, which also includes city walks and kayak trips.

Born in Wadowice on May 18, 1920, Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in 1978. He died on April 2, 2005, after a 26-year papacy that turned him into an opposition icon in deeply Catholic Poland.

The Totus tuus is no express: It takes 80 minutes to wind through 25 miles of hilly countryside southwest of Krakow. “We go through some of the most important places in the life of our pope,” Mr. Zbroinski said.

The train came into service in June and was blessed by John Paul’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, when he visited Poland last year. Since its introduction, the train has carried 80,000 passengers, who pay about $6 round-trip.

Inside the brand new, 152-seat rail car, a dozen flat screens play the globe-trotting pontiff’s favorite hymns and show footage of his eight pilgrimages to Poland, and of places and people who marked his life.

“This is an amazing idea. We’re with John Paul II from the start of the trip, so we feel even closer to him straight away,” said Halina Gorska, 35, who was traveling with her parents.

“When you’re on a train like this, you immediately feel you’re part of a community,” she added.

The onboard atmosphere is both festive and religious, Mr. Zbroinski said. “People are happy, smiling. Some weep with emotion when they watch the footage, while others sing hymns, sometimes strumming a guitar.”

The highlight of the trip is a stop in the pope’s hometown of Wadowice, where the house in which he was born has been turned into a museum that attracts about 5,000 visitors a day.

Along with photographs depicting John Paul’s life and displays of his religious vestments are skis and other equipment that he used during his athletic youth.

Pilgrims who want to emulate John Paul’s sporting past can head to northern Poland’s lake region to paddle on a kayak route along the River Drawa, or cycle through Silesia in the southwest.

For those who prefer a slower pace, Krakow’s local authorities have created a walking tour that retraces his life from 1939 until he was elected pope.

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