Worthy Mentions: Krakow 💋

Just a few businesses around Krakow that are worth a mention:

The cafe at the John Paul II Center: Seriously good, kremówka papieska (Papal Creme Cake).  JP II’s favorite!

Cytat Cafe: Coffee, books, and cake. So good. Cozy on a winter day. Great place to charge your phone or connect to wifi. Love. Love. Love.

Rigionalne Alkohole: Nice selection of Polish liquor, beer, & cider: not so much wine. The guy behind the counter is the quinestencial Pole. You may have to break out your Americana to get him to crack a smile; I did. My recommendation:

Krakow Nalewka Wawelsk
Nalewka Walwelska Handmade Polish Liquor

Christmas Fair: Covered this here. Highly recommend.

Hostel One Momotown: Sweet staff. Free dinner. Youthful, party vibe. You decide. If you want quiet contemplation this is NOT the place for you; check with the Sisters of Mercy. Love the Momotown staff.

Mihito: Maybe Poland’s answer to Zara? Loved the clothes. Loved the prices. Shop here for deals before you go to Prague or Berlin. Just sayin’. You will thank me. Women’s clothing store close to the John Paul II Center.

Mr. Valvelsky Karaoke Bar:  If karaoke is your thing, this place is so fun. The bar staff make excellent cocktails & the price will blow your mind. It’s so reasonable. Go early if you want a more chill vibe, as the night goes on it gets packed with Pub Crawls.

For sites, check out Wawel Cathedral, Main Square, Divine Mercy Shrine 1 and 2, John Paul II Center: 1 and 2 and 3, and Auschwitz-Birkenau 1 and 2.

A Lil’ Word of Warning:

  • Skip the perfume stores. Period. They smell watered & alcohol-downed.
  • Ask up front how much food costs at the Christmas Market or you may, just may, get ripped off, like paying twice as much for a sausage. I had no problems at the pierogi or soup stands. Those are steller. Just the sausage. Go figure.
  • Polish wodka is strooong. Proceed with caution. This peregrina has sworn it off. Wow.

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Pilgrimage to Aucshwitz-Birkenau, Poland, Part 2

The Letter

Their letter had been read in every church in Holland. The Dutch bishops could no longer keep silent. They felt they had to speak out against the racist regime. Their flock needed to hear their voice even if it meant their imprisonment, for even Bishops had been interned in Dachau. They went forward, undeterred, boldly giving witness to the truth of the dignity of all people. The shepherds were prepared to suffer themselves for the tyranny must be stopped. They were unprepared for Hitler’s retaliation; he went straight for their heart by striking at the flock itself.

All Hail

Sister Teresa had been sent in secret by her superiors to the Netherlands for they feared for her safety in Cologne. It was not long after her arrival that the Dutch were overtaken by the Nazi forces. Ethnic Jews, like Sr. Teresa Benedicta, were soon required to fill out extensive paperwork to register themselves with the new dictatorship, regardless of their religious affiliation. Teresa obliged the requirement to protect her Order.

“Hail Jesus Christ, King of the Universe!”

was the audtious salute that Teresa greeted the Nazi’s with as she entered their headquarters. It could be no other way for Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. God was the only One who merited such a provocative greeting.

In Her DNA

Teresa was born on the Jewish festival, Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement. She was given the name Edith Stein. Her father passed, leaving Edith’s mother to raise her and the ten siblings up, according to their Jewish faith. Like her mother, Edith was endowed with a will of steel and a pointed intelect. She also possesed a great desire for knowledge and truth, intertwined with her melancholy temperament.

Experience of the Divine

At fourteen, Edith found herself unsatisfied with the faith of her family. Having declared herself an atheist, she committed to the pursuit of learning, taking a particular interest in philosophy. It was during this pursuit of knowing that Edith came across Teresa of Avila’s autobiography. After reading about the nun’s experience with the divine, Edith came to know in her very being, that what the Spanish mystic wrote was true. Edith had been given the gift of faith.

With belief, Edith sought out instruction from a priest in the Catholic faith. This lead to her baptism. Rather than closing herself off after being born-again, she was intentional about maintaining her relationships. Edith was down to earth. Unfortunately, this would cause some to criticize her saying that it was difficult to see a difference from the saint and the sinners, at least when they shared company.

Ugh. Relatable…Haters gonna hate. Must be why our connection is so strong. Sorry, going on…

Being a pioneering women, she continued her studies in philosophy at the University. Edith was mentored by Edmund Husserl, and though, unable to acquire a professorship due to her jewishness rather than her gender, she would later go on to develop her own philosophy as a phenomenologist rooted in Thomistic thought.

Teresa never lost her ardor for the faith she was gifted. She developed her spiritual life with the help of spiritual mentors. At the age of forty she entered the Carmelites following after her spiritual mother, Teresa of Avila. It was her texts that opened Edith’s eyes to the divine thus making it fitting that she took the name, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

And, like the great Teresa of Avila, Edith also soared in the realm of Christian mysticism. She had deep foreshadowing knowledge that she would be sacrificed as a burnt offering for her Jewish people; in union to Christ’s one atonement on the Cross. She even offered herself as a holocaust to Christ.

The Offering

The roundup of Catholic Jews had begun in the Netherlands. Teresa and her companions’ would follow after their Saviour.

But He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity, He bore the punishment that makes us whole, By His wounds we are healed.

The prophet Isaiah, Chapter 53

And like Esther, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, would stand before her King pleading for her people; offering herself.

When she and her companions entered the gas chamber on August 9, 1942, there was the One who burns as a Holy Flame dancing alight inside them. For like their ancestors the prophets, they did not enter the furnace alone but with God who delivered them into His Presence, joining the chosen generations who had come before.

And there she stands today, making intercession for her people, the Old and the New.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau

I made my way down the long dirt road that followed the fence of the concentration camp. I was told that the building, a former SS commander’s house, was now a church; though no one ever goes there, it should be open if I want to pray.

When I arrived a wedding was just concluding and so with trepidation I entered. A painting of the saint greeted me hanging just to the right of the Presence in the golden box. I knelt and cried. That was my prayer.

I entered the enclosement from the south.

As I walked, I remembered.


In my heart, peace reigned.

Love triumphed.

Pilgrimage to Auschwitz-Birkenua, Poland, Part 1


“And though my windows got a view, The frame I’m looking through, Seems to have no concern for now, So for now, I need this, Old train to breakdown, Oh please, just, Let me please breakdown, This engine screams out loud.”


                                                                                                              -Jack Johnson

Add to playlist. Stop thinking. You are going there to remember – the heroic. This is an act of Mercy. Love triumphed.

I turned up, Spotify. I needed to stop the haunting images the clanging of the train was bringing to mind.  Images etched in my youthful memory from Eli Wiesel’s, Night.  Images from other pens came as well, but being older when those were lived- through the safety of the page- I had more maturity to process the confrontation with evil.

Dwell in the Good…I will dwell in the Good.

Auschwitz I

My Arrival

I had tried to get tickets online but was unsuccessful. I knew if Providence desired it, it would be- and so I trusted. The line was long. I was told to come back at six the next morning. Did he know how long the train ride was?  I smiled and explained my situation.

With an expressionless face but a glint in his eyes, his monotone voice spoke, “Auschwitz I is only open for you tomorrow, but Auschwitz II-Birkenau does not require a ticket. They will help you there.”

Well, this pilgrim did all she could. And, although I couldn’t get inside cell 18, block 11, the starvation chamber, where Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the Martyr of Love had died from lethal injection after volunteering to take the punishment of another prisoner, I had still made it just outside the barbed wire compound.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.                   -The Gospel of John, Chapter 15

I took my moment right there. I prayed for my people; I once had carried them in my womb and now I carried them in my heart. I knew that they were dear to their namesake. I knew he could succeed in securing their difficult vocations.

I found the lamppost where the bus to Auschwitz II-Birkenau made its rounds to pick up the thousands of visitors who arrived everyday. As I waited, and wondered at God’s plan for me, I felt a nasty, gritty wetness hit me from above! Pigeon poop. There was the sign of God’s favor. Lucky me! Although, I prefer ladybugs landing on me as a heavenly lot, I got on the bus now knowing, I was where I was meant to be.

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein

Come, Rosa, we go for our people.

Teresa took her sister’s arm, her brown habit blowing as her flag in the evening breeze, coming off the canals. The gestapo officer lead the two women to the truck ironically offering them his hand. Teresa, with the dignity of knowing her purpose, raised her hem just enough not to trip, and seated herself amongst her companions. Some of the faces she knew.  Mother had arrived to bring comfort. They began to pray the scriptures, “Hail Mary, full of grace…”


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Christmas in Krakow: John Paul II Center, Part 3

Perfection of life,
is the perfection of love.
For love, is the life of the soul.

-francis de sales

Yes, Karol Wojtyla (AKA Pope John Paul II) perfected life by being perfected in Love.

Karol was born into a family. And, like most Poles he was given the gift of baptism by his religious parents. He developed natural talents and interests: in sports, the outdoors, the theater, books, and of course, a captivating raven-haired beauty with a flair for the dramatic(s). Nothing too unusual – except perhaps – for the many languages he was acquiring; nine in all.

…Seriously impressed as I struggle to keep up my Duolingo streak — even during Covid quarantine.

Like the rest of us, he was not immune to suffering. At a young age he lost his mother, Emilia. A few years later, when Karol was twelve, his older brother, Edmund, died serving as a doctor during a Scarlet Fever outbreak.

…Shout out to our Healthcare Heroes! Thank you for saving lives!

His motherland was invaded first by Germans, and then by Russians. With these forces came decrees limiting Catholic worship, freedom of movement and the freedom to gather. Catholic education became a punishable crime. The aim? Destroy the Church by destroying it’s culture.

…No worries here in the States. Life will return to normal. Hopefully soon!

He knew the strain and exhaustion of hard, physical labor on the body, while he worked long days in the rock quarries. He also knew well the pain of injury, having been struck by a German truck, laying him up in the hospital for two excruciating weeks.

…So thankful that the concussion he suffered did not have long term effects – for his thought has formed me; it is a pearl of wisdom- even if it requires much.

Grief soon entered his life again with his father’s passing. Karol was alone at just twenty-one years of age.

Shortly after the loss of his father, his friends and neighbors were rounded up by the foreign invaders, many to disappear permanently; with Karol just narrowly escaping, finding refuge from the fate of his community in the basement of the Archbishop of Krakow.

..Now, that’s a hell’a lot to suffer. Really. It is.

This exile allowed Karol Wojtyla the freedom to become who he was meant to be. With the providential hand of God guiding him, Karol was ordained a priest in secret – and through the grace of the sacrament – now had his soul configured to Christ. His mission had begun and through the loom of Providence, this man born to a humble family, would become Saint Pope John Paul II.


We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.


As I wandered through the exhibit, full of precious relics of a father of many, I could feel this gentle shepherd’s presence walking with me, as a sweet companion on this part of my journey; One of the many times my spiritual father would walk with me, his child, over the course of my life – for he chose me before I chose him.

This love – this Eternal Love – he shows to me, is proof of his perfection of Life, for it is through this sacrificial Love that I was birthed through prayer. Forgetting himself, John Paul II, danced with grace letting the Spirit take the lead as he travailed for the world and especially, for the little lost lambs. You know, the weak and broken ones.

This Spirit is of the One who is mysterious and old. The One who rose before the Dawn. The One who called forth being from the depths He formed. The One always present to the Father’s Will. The Ancient of Days. Truth and Mercy. Love Incarnate. Jesus.

-Totus Tuus

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Christmas in Krakow: John Paul II Center, Part 2


Be not afraid.                                                                                       – John Paul II

My train stopped at the end of the line, and as Google maps had deserted me once more, I hopped off, now relying on the interior compass, the quiet knowing of the pilgrim.

Hmm, shopping malls…Not what I expected.

Big-box stores…Okay.

Cars. Lots of tiny, speeding cars…

How ’bout a crosswalk? No.


Bam. I was on my way.

After crossing under the highway, the John Paul II Center came into sight. I made my way there in just under ten. The exterior of the complex looked fresh and new, especially in contrast to the bleak monotonous backdrop of the December skyline.

I decided to enter the church first to greet the Presence residing behind the closed doors of the golden box. As the candle burned red, I knew He was here, waiting for me; directing my steps so He would be found.

It is here that I drank deeply of the Spirit.


It was also here, where I saw with my own eyes, the blood stained robe of John Paul II, the old man kissing the threshold, who took the bullets for his Father and his flock; a good shepherd from the moment of his ordination as a priest.

As Pope, John Paul II was known for having said in regard to the attempted assassination that nearly took his life and stained his holy robe:

“One hand pulled the trigger and another guided the bullet.”

This shepherd’s goodness was so great that he not only forgave the man who shot him, but befriended him, thirty-seven years ago to the day of my pilgrimage here: the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

“Papa, help me to forgive my enemy too.” I prayed with want to my beloved saint. “And, please bless my family… All of (gulp) them.”

Praying that prayer was a grace, and a sign that I was getting closer to sincere forgiveness. But, I still kept thinking how much easier it is to forgive those who are sorry. My enemy was still intent on seeking my destruction. The cross of forgiving was mine.

Feeling that self-pity was seeking a place in my head, I finished quickly, with a simple, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

I made my way out, the heavy doors of the church closing behind me despite the formidable wind. I made a beeline to the building next door, the Archdiocesan Museum of St. John Paul II; the Pole who had perfected life.

Yes. Perfected. Life.

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Christmas in Krakow: John Paul II Center, Part 1

Sometimes in life, we find that when we are most confident that we are headed in the right direction we unexpectedly, but precisely at the perfect moment, are alerted to alter our course.

As I rode the commuter bus through Krakow’s center still fashioned with the adornments of the holiday, my thoughts went back to a Christmas forever ago. It was a quiet evening as I flipped through the channels looking for the countdown to the ball drop. Instead the remote stopped on a different square, and in contrast to the rollicking jubilee in NY city, an older man wearing white was walking with a metal staff in hand, up a flight of steps.

He was in Rome and as he approached the enormous doors before him, he knelt, lowered himself head-to-ground and kissed the stone threshold. As I took in this foreign image, something deep inside me ruptured. Mysterious, ancient tears welled up, escaped their captivity and flooded down my face. Impressed upon my soul was the ascertained knowledge that this man was father; I belonged to him. And then came peace. Hello, 2000…

Hello, Google maps. Where you been?  Wifi arrived twenty minutes into my ride and although I don’t read or speak Polish, I was pretty sure I was on the wrong bus. Without any discretion but with many apologies, I shoved my phone in the face of the stoic but (to my great joy) friendly local, crammed next to me. He informed me that my gut was right but the bus was not. On cue the doors screeched open. I jumped off. Within two minutes I was on a direct train headed toward my destination, the John Paul II Center, Krakow. Thank you, Providence.

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Christmas in Krakow’s Jewish Quarter: Divine Mercy, Part 2

“Also not far from the Jewish Quarter in this city, is a little chapel where the bones of a Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalska, are laid to rest. Hanging above this poor nun’s tomb is the miraculous image of Divine Mercy. The painting is of the merciful God that this humble women hailed; on her knees, head lowered, prayer beads in hand.”

-Christmas in Krakow: The Jewish Quarter, Divine Mercy, Part 1

In stark contrast to Hitler, St. Faustina gave her life by emptying herself of self-love. She experienced deep mystical union with God having her one desire for herself to be God’s will at all times, in every present moment.

Having entered the convent in 1925 after experiencing the Suffering Christ, she spent her days serving her sisters in the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy. It was in this small convent in Krakow, not far from the Jewish Quarter, that God would reveal himself to this young Polish woman who had given up everything, including marriage, to live a life of obedience and poverty.

As she enthusiastically went about her tasks, that were rather monotonous and dull, one would never guess by appearances, that this nun with only three years of formal education would be God’s choice to reveal to a tormented world his answer to it’s misery; Divine Mercy.

Over the course of the next thirteen years, Jesus revealed the mystery of his pierced heart for the world, which is Love and Mercy, over and over again to St. Faustina. He expressed his great hunger to be united in love with each person on earth. He promised that anyone who turned to Him with trust in His goodness would receive pardon for the wrongs they had done, for He is Love and Mercy itself.

Having a deeply contemplative prayer life of humble sacrifice, extraordinary gifts were given to St. Faustina such as revelations, visions, the hidden wounds of Christ, participation in the Passion of Jesus’ suffering, bilocation, prophecy, reading of souls, and mystical marriage and engagement.

As incredible as those gifts are, the most lasting gift to be given through Faustina is the miraculous image of Divine Mercy, along with the accompanying prayers invoking God’s unfathomable mercy for the world.

Jesus revealed, and is still revealing today through this miraculous image, that He is mercy and the hope for our misery. His greatest desire is to flood our soul with His boundless love. We need to trust in Him.


Blood and water which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus, I trust in you.

Prayer from the Chaplet of Divine Mercy

Visiting the Divine Mercy Sanctuary: Krakow, Poland

The Divine Mercy Sanctuary is open to visitors. Mass is offered, as well as other prayer services, throughout the year. Check their website for the most current offerings. In addition to the shrine where St. Faustina is laid to rest, there is a basilica, as well as her house which has as a reproduction of her cell. The sanctuary is run by the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.

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Christmas in Krakow’s Jewish Quarter: Divine Mercy, Part 1

“Tell the world of my great and unfathomable Mercy.”

Jesus to St. Faustina

Christmas Eve in the Jewish Quarter

Returning to the hostel from Midnight Mass, I joined two new friends from Tel Aviv, who were celebrating Hanukkah. As we raised our glass together, I could not help but think of what happened not far from this city during World War II; the systematic extermination of people, primarily Jews, but many others as well, who were deemed less than vermin.

Just prior to my arrival in Krakow, I had made an intentional trip to Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp just outside of Munich, Germany. It was a personal pilgrimage for me of which I will write more about soon. So much suffering had taken place there as a direct result of individuals choosing to commit evil against their neighbors, many of whom were Poles. Comprehension of the suffering imposed on those interned in the camps seems nearly unfathomable to people of good heart.


When confronted with evil on the magnitude of the Holocaust, it seems only natural to want to lash out at anyone that could have had the power to stop the atrocities and didn’t. Evil on this level, may cause us to question even the existence of the Creator. We might even attribute to God all the narcissistic qualities of the man who the SS hailed as their “Hitler” thus paying the man, not the Creator, homage.

In light of these conclusions, hopelessness and despair seem understandable. All that might be able to rally us through those two tunnels of darkness, would be our hearts cry for justice, but too often, this desire turns into revenge–justice at all costs, no matter what level it sinks us to. Forgiveness? For what purpose?

At a low point in my life, as I wrestled with forgiving people who injured me gravely, someone told me this:

Unforgiveness is like handing your enemy a cup of poison but instead drinking it yourself.

That was an eye opening perspective. What good was my anger doing for me? Nothing good. Forgiveness seemed impossible to me. I did not have enough Love. I was incapable of forgiving my enemy. I was suffering; not the one perpetuating the evil.

Enter Saint Faustina Kowalska

Also not far from the Jewish Quarter in this city, is a little chapel where the bones of a Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalska, are laid to rest. Hanging above this poor nun’s tomb is the miraculous image of Divine Mercy. The painting is of the merciful God that this humble women hailed; on her knees, head lowered, prayer beads in hand.

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Christmas Day: Krakow’s Main Square, The Place to Be

The Nativity at St. Mary’s Basilica

The magic of Krakow does not end on Christmas Eve. Actually the celebration is just beginning! The majority of Poles still observe Christmas for the full twelve days. The celebration begins on December 24th and continues through Epiphany, which is January 6th.

Christmas Day in Krakow must be spent visiting the Christmas Fair. Amidst horse drawn carriages, Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and stages bedecked with Polish singers and dancers, is a square permeated with delicious scents. Mulled wine, sausages, soups, sweet treats and pierogies (polish dumplings) are served in abundance. Wooden stalls are filled to the brim with rustic and glass ornaments, handmade knitwear, traditional pottery, toys, and wooden housewares.

Cloth Hall, which might be the first shopping mall ever, is likely to be open too. This UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to the Renaissance, is full of quality amber jewelry, beautiful icons and other items to purchase.

20191225_141346Christmas Market
Christmas Fair, Main Square

A visit to St. Mary’s Basilica which is adjacent to Main Square should not be missed. It is free to those who enter to pray or to attend mass. Tours are not offered on Holy Days.

St. Mary’s is second in importance in Krakow, only to Wawel Cathedral. It is from her watchtower that Krakow’s trumpeter sounded the alarm at the invasion of the Tarters during the Middle Ages. During that invasion, the trumpeter was unable to finish the call as he had been shot in the throat by a Tarter’s arrow, causing him to give up his life. Still to this day the trumpet call is made from the watchtower on the hour throughout each day. To honor the faithful, fallen trumpeter, the call ends at the exact moment the trumpeter of Krakow stopped playing, all those centuries ago.

I swear on my honor as a Pole, as a servant of the King of the Polish people, that I will faithfully and unto the death, if there be need, sound upon the trumpet the Heynal in honor of Our Lady each hour in the tower of the church which bears her name. -Oath of the Trumpeter of Krakow

Szopka Krakow

Krakow loves Christmas. It is customary during this holy season to visit different churches throughout the city to pray before the beautiful nativities on display inside. Mini-pilgrimages may be made in this way to honor the long awaited Christ Child. As you make your way to the next church keep your eyes out for the many szkopas scattered about the city in shop windows, museums, restaurants and along the street. These whimsical folk art nativities use Krakow’s historical buildings as their backdrop. Krakow’s szkopas brighten the season and heighten the charm of this endearing City of Saints.


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A Magical Christmas in the City of Saints: Krakow, Poland

We stood there in it’s shadow, shivering not just from the bite in the midnight air, but also with anticipation of what we had both so longed for throughout our advents. With daring, he spoke his first words of broken English; wide smiles filled in where words were lacking.

The iron gate was still closed and a few others were embarking up the steep road that would lead to the ancient sanctuary where the tomb of Poland’s most beloved Stanislaus’ body rests. The gate began to be drawn by the guardsman. He motioned for us to enter and the two, who were now twenty, quickly made our way up the road to the great door of Wawel Cathedral.

There to meet us, as if the Trumpeter of Krakow himself, was a distinguished clergyman dressed in full medieval regalia announcing with tremendous vigor a greeting of great importance. All in POLISH. Of course.

As I passed, I quietly whispered, “Merry Christmas, Father.” with my very American accent. The priest’s stern face melted into a sweet smile and he allowed this American girl to enter Poland’s great treasure. As I entered I felt as if I had just stumbled upon a dragon’s hoard with all the glittering metal. I was truly taken back by the beauty of this Holy place.

I took a seat in a wooden monk’s stall not far from the alter. Kneeling on the stone floor like thousands of pilgrim’s before me, I thanked God for bringing me here safely. I asked my beloved, Saint Pope John Paul II, to pray for my family as he had prayed for his in this Cathedral at his first mass as a priest.

“Oh my God,” I began. “I offer up all my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this pilgrimage, in union with this holy mass and those offered throughout the world. I pray…”

Baby Jesus was laid in the manger. The mass that I had traveled across the world for had begun. The cadence of the words spoken, though unintelligible to me, were intimately familiar, striking deeply in my heart. And then the miracle happened once again. God came down to dwell in his people. We were filled with hope.

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