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Photo: Chris Sparks
Remembering Pope John Paul II
By Chris Sparks (Oct 21, 2013)
The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy celebrated the life and legacy of Bl. Pope John Paul II on Saturday, Oct. 19, a prelude to Tuesday's feast day. The Shrine offered pilgrims a talk by Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, on the late and beloved Bl. Pope John Paul II, as well as a special opportunity to venerate the blessed's relic.
"I had the privilege of knowing John Paul," said Fr. Kaz, the provincial superior for the Marian Fathers' Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province. "I had the privilege of growing up during that time when he just become Holy Father. I have followed him. I have read many things. I had the privilege of living and studying when he was very active, when he was at the height of who he was. I had a personal encounter through the various events that took place."
He recounted his experience of attending the University of Lublin, Poland, when the then-Professor Karol Wojtyla was still teaching there. "The youth loved him," said Fr. Kaz, describing how the manuscript of Love and Responsibility, a key work laying the framework for Pope John Paul II's renowned Theology of the Body, was passed from student to student whose names were on a waiting list.
Father Kaz also shared a powerful memory of attending a private Mass in the papal chapel in 2001 with Bl. Pope John Paul II, who was kneeling in prayer for a good half hour before the Mass began — even though, toward the end of his life, his Parkinson's severely limited his mobility.
"He lived faith, hope, and love," Fr. Kaz concluded. "Because I have seen, I have to witness."
Throughout the day, the pilgrims got a chance to tour the grounds of Eden Hill, in Stockbridge, Mass., make their confessions, pray a Rosary before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, attend Mass, participate in the Divine Mercy devotions during the Hour of Great Mercy, and receive a blessing of religious articles.
Deacon Bob Digan gave the homily at the day's Mass, celebrated by Fr. Bob Shaldone in honor of the North American Martyrs.
"And today we celebrate Blessed John Paul," Deacon Bob said. "He will soon be canonized on Mercy Sunday. It's reasons of God how all this comes into play. What really strikes me about his life is that he was very much involved with what they call existential phenomenology. And what it is, it's about the essence of people and their personalities. He looked very deeply into the life of faith and what this meant to the individual person. He had tremendous, tremendous respect for the dignity and worth of human beings." Because of that respect, concluded Deacon Bob, John Paul II could see the image and likeness of God in every person he met, whether they were the poorest of the poor or dictators oppressing their peoples.
Pilgrims also venerated the first-class relic of Bl. John Paul II in the National Shrine — a drop of the blood taken from the late pope at Gemelli Hospital in Rome during his last days. The relic was a gift to the Marians from Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, Pope John Paul II's personal secretary. The Marians also have several of Bl. John Paul II's zuchettos, or skullcaps, in the Shrine and elsewhere on the grounds.
And those relics drew pilgrims from a long ways away.
Teresa Walsh, from St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Elyria, Ohio, brought her two boys up to see the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. "We came up because we wanted to venerate the relics of John Paul II." Her devotion to the late Holy Father was sparked by reading his writings, she said, "and seeing him — hearing everything he had to say. Especially 'Be not afraid,' because the culture that we're living in, everybody's fearful of this and that. So that's probably what started it. I was a senior in college the day he was elected, it was like, 'Wow,' you know? And [my devotion] just got bigger after that."
To join the Marians on a pilgrimage to the canonization of Bl. Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, visit our pilgrimage page. To learn more about Bl. Pope John Paul II's Divine Mercy legacy, see here.