On May 11, Knights, their families and other visitors filled the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., for a solemn Mass of thanksgiving for the recent canonizations of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. The celebration continued after Mass as pilgrims walked in procession from the basilica to the newly renamed Saint John Paul II National Shrine, which is operated by the Knights of Columbus.
Led by more than 100 Fourth Degree Knights along the half-mile pilgrimage route from the basilica, the procession included a reliquary containing St. John Paul II’s blood, which was carried by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington. The cardinal also served as the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass.
The day’s ceremonies, which were televised internationally by Catholic networks, took place on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson noted that it was also “appropriate that our day of thanksgiving take place on Mother’s Day, a day celebrated by the family,” since Pope Francis described St. John Paul II as the “pope of the family” during the Mass of canonization April 27.
TWO GOOD SHEPHERDS
At the beginning of the May 11 eucharistic celebration, Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica, processed into the Great Upper Church with a relic of St. John XXIII and placed it beside the main altar for veneration. Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore likewise carried the blood relic of St. John Paul II, which was entrusted to the Knights of Columbus by Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, archbishop of Kraków and longtime personal secretary to John Paul.
In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl said, “It is easy to picture both St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II stepping into the role of the shepherd depicted in the Gospel today.”
At a time when “voices all around were calling for social revolution, St. John XXIII raised his voice so that all of the faithful could find assurance,” the cardinal said. In calling for the Second Vatican Council, he added, St. John XXIII “spoke words of assurance that the Church … would prepare herself well to lead the flock into the future.”
Turning to the Polish pontiff, Cardinal Wuerl said, “St. John Paul II, whose newly christened national shrine graces this same area in our nation’s capital, saw his pontificate as the implementation of what began with St. John XXIII.”
Throughout his pontificate, the cardinal said, John Paul II “nourished his flock with the consoling power of [Christ’s] words, ‘Be not afraid!’”
Cardinal Wuerl added that amid great changes taking place around the world, “St. John Paul II was calling our attention to the fact that Christ continues to be the answer — the answer to the most perplexing and pressing and perennial questions of the human mind and the human heart.”
Immediately following Mass, the Fourth Degree honor guard led the liturgical procession to the nearby Saint John Paul II National Shrine, as Cardinal Wuerl carried the relic of John Paul II and several hundred pilgrims followed.
A NEW NATIONAL SHRINE
Established nearly three years ago, the Blessed John Paul II Shrine was designated a national shrine at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in March. The following month, the shrine hosted a series of events during the weekend of the canonization April 26-27, including a midnight Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday, before it was officially renamed the Saint John Paul II National Shrine.
Once pilgrims arrived at the shrine May 11 following the Mass of Thanksgiving, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the United States, read a papal message commending the work of the shrine, which read in part:
“The Holy Father … is confident that the shrine will open wide its doors to the countless members of the faithful from the United States and abroad who remember St. John Paul with gratitude and affection, and who trustingly seek his intercession and assistance.”
In his own remarks, Supreme Knight Anderson drew attention to Pope Francis’ video message to the people of Poland on the occasion of the canonization. In that message, the Holy Father said, “John Paul II continues to inspire us. We are inspired by his words, his writings, his gestures, his style of service. We are inspired by his suffering lived with heroic hope. We are inspired by his total entrustment to Christ, redeemer of man, and to the Mother of God.”
Echoing the statement, the supreme knight said, “In the years and decades ahead, may each pilgrim be inspired by St. John Paul II. … May each pilgrim to this shrine, through his intercession, follow in his footsteps as a courageous disciple of Christ.”
Cardinal Wuerl then thanked the supreme knight for his vision in making the Saint John Paul II National Shrine a reality, and he presented a painting of the newly canonized pontiff to supreme officers and to Patrick Kelly, the shrine’s executive director.
Following the remarks and presentation, those gathered at the shrine recited together the chaplet of Divine Mercy, prayed for the intercession of St. John Paul II and received a blessing with the blood relic.
A 16,000-square-foot permanent exhibition dedicated to the late pope’s life and teachings is scheduled to open at the shrine later this year, and renovation of the worship space will follow. For further information about events and exhibitions, visit jp2shrine.org.