Astana (AsiaNews/UCAN) – Every August pilgrims make their way to the ‘Black Madonna’ in the Church of Our Lady of Częstochowa in Kamyshenka, northern Kazakhstan. On August 25 the devout leave the village of Novoishimks, 40 kilometres north of Astana, or from Astrakhanka. They stop over night on the 60-kilometre road in order to arrive the following day for the mass that celebrates Our Lady of Częstochowa and which coincides with the end of a similar but better known pilgrimage in Poland.
It all began when a Polish teacher brought a replica of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa in the early 1990s. When a church was dedicated to Our Lady of Częstochowa in 1994, Catholics walked over three days the 100 kilometres from Astana to attend. A tradition has developed ever since with pilgrimages arranged every year to mark the feast day.
Despite the heat the faithful made their way down the road praying the Rosary, singing Marian hymns, many with a grace to ask. Like Oksana, 26, who told UCA News that this August she came to thank Our Lady for her father, who recently survived a heart attack, but also to figure out whether one young man was “suitable to be my husband.” Or Alena Verbitskaya, 9, who set off from Astana to “help grandpa,” who suffers from diabetes and has lost one leg.
Tradition has it that Saint Luke painted the famous icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa just before he died in the year 84, on the cypress top of a table used by the Holy Family. Modern scholars date it however to the 13th or 14th centuries.
Whatever its origin, the picture was taken to Beltz, now western Ukraine; and then to Częstochowa, Poland, where it protects the country.
It is the "Black Madonna" because of the black colour of Mary's face, a coloration some attribute to a fire and others to the combined effect of millions of wax candles that worshippers lighted in front of the image.
Under communist rule in Poland from 1945 to 1989, the icon symbolised the country's struggle for freedom.
In 1991, Częstochowa hosted an international World Youth Day celebration for 1.6 million young Catholic participants. And Poland's late Pope John Paul II was there.