A mother with five children came to pray that her teen daughter would stay close to the faith as she went off to college. An elderly woman asked that the communists will finally be ousted from her Cuban homeland and her relatives would live in freedom. Another woman came to get prayer cards to send to her grandfather in Poland. Young and old alike – children in baby strollers and elders in wheelchairs – came in a steady stream to venerate the blood relic of St. John Paul II at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, in Orlando, Florida.
The first-class relic, from the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., was in Orlando for the 132nd Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention. Two days after the convention closed, it was brought to Mary, Queen of the Universe for public veneration, August 9-10. It was the last stop of the relic’s East Coast tour that began in Boston and continued to New York and Philadelphia.
The relic was brought into the shrine on Saturday afternoon by the rector, Father Paul J. Henry, accompanied by a Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree honor guard. The main purpose of relic veneration, Father Henry said before the ceremony, is to give glory to God and honor the saint whose relic is presented. “A relic is not a magic object; it is a connection to God,” he said. “People have a natural need to reach out in the spirit and experience something beyond their own powers, to reach the power of God.”
Throughout the afternoon, pairs of Fourth Degree Knights from DeSoto Province stood in regular shifts on either side of the relic, as the lines of people waiting for veneration grew. At 6 p.m., Bishop John Noonan of Orlando offered Mass, with more than 2,000 people filling the shrine’s seats and standing around the perimeter. At the end of Mass, Bishop Noonan held up the reliquary and blessed the people in the pews. The relic was again placed in the sanctuary for veneration and people lined up for hours to pray before the relic or touch a religious object to it. Veneration resumed between Masses through Sunday evening.
In his homily at the Saturday evening Mass, Bishop Noonan, who had offered the Opening Mass on Aug. 5 at the Supreme Convention, thanked the Knights for bringing the relic to Orlando. He said that St. John Paul II had a special appeal because he lived in recent times and people have personal memories of him. The bishop recounted highlights of the saint’s life, especially his historic role in toppling the communist regime in Poland and leading a renewal of the Church by his visits to many countries.
He concluded his homily with a prayer: “St. John Paul II, you told us not to be afraid. Help us to take courage. Let us be like you, so that we may bring God and the Gospel to those who are fearful, those who doubt, those who are in need, and those who need God in their lives.”
Located on 17 acres near Disney World and other popular theme parks, the Orlando shrine was opened in 1993 and was named a minor basilica in 2009. It is adorned with contemporary yet reverent artwork, including a series of stained-glass windows telling stories from the Old and New Testaments, bronze statues of Sts. Peter and Paul, a unique statue of St. Joseph and Jesus in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth, and a white marble sculpture of Mary, Queen of the Universe.