John Paul II Museum Opens in Czestochowa, Poland

Among Its Treasures Is Largest Collection of Pontiffs Medals and Coins

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Krzysztof Witkowski, a successful entrepreneur, has been director for 24 years of “President Electronics Poland,” a radio-communications firm in Czestochowa, a city renowned for its monastery where the famous icon of the “Black Madonna” is kept. However, like many entrepreneurs who lead a frenetic and stressful life, in December of 2004 he was struck by cerebral apoplexy, which paralyzed the right side of his body.

In those dramatic moments he entrusted his life and health to the Madonna of Czestochowa. When he overcame his illness and returned to health, he began to think of making a votive offering to the Madonna; thus the idea was born to organize a museum in honor of St. John Paul II, who was devoted to the Black Madonna and was formed spiritually under the protective mantle of the Queen of Poland.

However, Witkowski wondered, what sort of museum should it be?  It was there he considered his passion for coins and medal. Witkowski’s father was already a collector and from him, he inherited 53 papal medals made in Poland. With subsequent acquisitions, by 2009 his collection numbered 365 medals and coins: one for every day of the year, as he told me. However, the real change came when he acquired a three-thousand piece collection belonging to Wojciech Grabowski, another passionate Polish collector of coins and medals, who resides in London.

Witkowski needed to create a suitable museum environment for his new collection. Since 2010, his collection has tripled, and now has more than 9,200 pieces – it is the largest in the world! Even now, it continues to grow since he is buying duplicates of the coins, to have their “other face” seen, or the reverse side.

Witkowski told me that 83 countries have minted coins with John Paul II’s effigy and about 800 sculptors have taken on the figure of Karol Wojtyla. The most “official” part of the collection is made up of the medals that the Vatican prepared for every year of the pontificate. There were 26 annual sets, until the year 2004: as the medals are presented on June 29, feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The 2005 set was not prepared for John Paul II, who died on April 2.

The John Paul II Museum of medals and coins has become the point of reference for all pilgrims visiting Czestochowa. Witkowski, who often is the personal guide at the Museum he created, wants to bring the figure of the Holy Polish Pope close to children and young people, many of whom no longer remember John Paul II. Thus the numismatic exhibition has become the occasion to recount the history of Wojtyla’s pontificate and holiness.

Moreover, the Museum has become the patron of many artists that make papal medals. For instance, Witkowski sponsored 71 Polish sculptors to prepare the medal ”My John Paul II.” Thus a beautiful exhibition was born and a part of the medals has been acquired by the Museum.

On visiting the Museum, my attention was caught by a collection of skull caps. Witkowski explained that he succeeded in acquiring the skull caps of many prelates with their signature, but also the white skull cap of St. John Paul II and of Pope Francis with their respective signatures. And now, Pope Benedict XVI’s skull cap will arrive. When I manifested my incredulity, the Director told me an incredible story: “I was able to get it thanks to the help of the Mayor of Altotting in Bavaria, an acquaintance of the Pope Emeritus. On the occasion of one of his visits, he asked Benedict XVI to sign it for our Museum. And Benedict did!”

Moreover, since 2012, on the 18th of every month meetings take place entitled “With John Paul II Towards the Future.” Persons are invited to these meetings who in some way knew or collaborated with Pope Wojtyla.

I left the Museum full of admiration for this devoted and enterprising man who allocated part of his fortune to the creation of this monument in tribute to John Paul II, the greatest of Poles, today a Saint.

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