Text Size:
  • A
  • A
  • A

Sanctity on Display


Columbia staff

Pilgrims tour the new exhibit at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine Oct. 22. (Photo by Matthew Barrick)

The Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., hosted a series of events surrounding the Oct. 22 celebration of John Paul II’s first feast day since his canonization last April. Supreme Officers at the event were joined by Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki of Lviv, Ukraine, and other distinguished guests for the official opening of a world-class permanent exhibit on the life and teachings of the new saint.

In addition, the celebration offered pilgrims special opportunities for prayer and veneration of the saint’s relics, as well as a chance to view the K of C-produced documentary titled John Paul II in America: Uniting a Continent.

Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore was the principal celebrant of an evening Mass preceding the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the shrine’s new 16,000-square-foot exhibit, titled “A Gift of Love: The Life of Saint John Paul II.”

“This evening, we gather in thanksgiving and joy as we celebrate the feast day of St. John Paul II,” said the supreme chaplain in his homily. “Our joy is compounded as we see all about us how this shrine, named in his honor, is progressing. It has already become a place of pilgrimage, prayer and devotion, where many come to seek the powerful intercession of St. John Paul II.”

The Supreme Officers, led by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, and the shrine staff, led by Executive Director Patrick E. Kelly, welcomed a number of special guests and dignitaries to the shrine for the events. For Archbishop Mokrzycki, who served as personal secretary to John Paul II from 1996 until the pope’s death in 2005, it was his first visit to the shrine. In addition to concelebrating Mass, Archbishop Mokrzycki led the Divine Mercy chaplet and a procession of a relic of St. John Paul II. The reliquary, which contains a glass ampoule of the saint’s blood, is a centerpiece of the shrine and was entrusted to the Knights of Columbus by Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, archbishop of Kraków, Poland.

Delivering remarks after Mass, Archbishop Mokrzycki said, “The one who brings us together is St. John Paul II, who continues to be a model of love for God, his commandments, the Gospel and the Church.”

He added, “I thank the Knights of Columbus for such a courageous undertaking and I believe that through this shrine you will be faithful stewards of St. John Paul II’s teaching today and in the future.”

Supreme Knight Anderson first announced the shrine initiative during his annual report in August 2011, four months after John Paul II’s beatification. A shrine dedicated to John Paul II’s contributions to the Church and society would be located on the site of the former Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, which opened in 2001. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington gave his blessing to the project and declared the site an archdiocesan shrine. Last March, in anticipation of John Paul II’s canonization a month later, it was designated a national shrine at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In May, Pope Francis, through Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, expressed his hope 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.”

Archbishop Lori echoed this sentiment in his homily Oct. 22, noting that John Paul II was particularly close to the Knights of Columbus: “Now we are able to transform this building from a center to a shrine, a place of grace and holiness, truth and love to proclaim the message of his life and pontificate within the Church and before the world.”

The new exhibit, which marks the completion of phase one of the shrine, invites pilgrims to journey through nine galleries that trace the life, papacy and teachings of St. John Paul II. The multimedia experience includes unique artifacts, audio-visual components and engaging interactive displays in a setting that inspires deep reflection on one of the major intellectual, spiritual and historical figures of the 20th century.

Designed by Gallagher and Associates, the exhibit focuses both on the events that shaped the pope and those that he in turn shaped: from his youth in Nazi-occupied Poland, to his ministry as priest, bishop and cardinal, to his dynamic 26-year pontificate.

“This exhibit is a true testament to the life of St. John Paul II, and will have three purposes,” Archbishop Mokrzycki said. “First, to protect, by securing and systematizing artifacts related to the life of the saint. Then, to educate by cultural, scientific and educational programming, allowing visitors to learn about the person of John Paul II and his teachings. Finally and most importantly, to show the beauty of a life lived according to the Gospel.”