On October 22, Catholics celebrated newly canonized Saint John Paul II’s first feast day. The event drew a large crowd to his shrine in Washington D.C. where the rosary was said and then a documentary on his visits to North America over the years was shown before the Mass in commemoration of St. John Paul II was said. The shrine is home to a blood stained piece of the garment St. John Paul II was wearing during the 1981 attempted assassination. The now permanent exhibit, “A Gift of Love: The Life of Saint John Paul II” drew large crowds and features artifacts, interactive displays, and facts about St. John Paul II’s spiritual, intellectual, and political impact. It is a place of pilgrimage where people can come to learn about the Saint and grow in their faith through knowledge of his example. It was created with the purpose of being a response to his and Pope Francis’ calls for a “new evangelization”, a place to experience a genuine encounter with God and see how His work was carried out by the Saint. It was designated a national shrine earlier this year by the United Conference of Catholic Bishops. The shrine was filled with everyone from young people to the elderly, from D.C. inhabitants to Polish pilgrims, from lay people and sisters, priests, and brothers. He was Pope for 26 years, but an important figure even before that as a Bishop of Krakow under the communist regime.
Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, a special guest in the celebration, commenting St. John Paul II’s life, said, “He traveled; he wrote; he acted; he spoke of great themes and challenges; he confronted; he inspired us to seek God and holiness; he uplifted; he led the Church and humanity in prayer. Ultimately, he was a sign of faithful clarity in a troubled time and a steadfast beacon of hope.” The impact of this message was seen in the number of people celebrating the feast day there, and the enthusiasm with which people reportedly partook in the celebrations. Various Catholic schools and institutions have now been named in his honor. Those inspired by the Saint spoke about their encounters with him, such as Edyth Triana, whose son the Saint baptized. She told of when St. John Paul II celebrated Mass in her hometown in Mexico, and how she and her husband identified with him. Now, October 22 will be their son’s “spiritual birthday.” Polish American Father Kazimierz Chwalek recounted how the Saint inspired him to listen to his call to the priesthood because of the way he “made himself available to people.”
Pope Saint John Paul II will forever live in the minds of people around the world as the outspoken, holy Pope, who kissed the ground of every country he visited, wrote extensively about faith and its role in the modern world, and made influenced individual people in their faith as well as large scale political movements like the Solidarity movement which contributed greatly to the demise of the communist regime in Poland. His 26 years as Pope saw the collapse of Communism in all but five countries, a renewed interest in the Church among the young, and a growing concern for the moral health of nations. For anyone under the age of 36, he was their first Pope and the most monolithic image of Catholicism in the twentieth century.