The St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC celebrated the canonization of Pope John Paul II this weekend with a name change and several other events spanning almost a full 24 hours Saturday and Sunday. The shrine, located adjacent to Catholic University and down the street from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, has been owned by the Knights of Columbus since 2011 after it was previously known as the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. Earlier this year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops designated it a national shrine, after it was previously an archdiocesan shrine.
Events started off Saturday with a showing of a documentary on Pope John Paul II. Later that evening, a Eucharistic Procession called “In the Footsteps of John Paul II” took place, starting at the Shrine. The procession started out by going to the Basilica before winding its way through the campus of Catholic University (with multiple stops for adoration and prayer) and then made a final stop at the Saint John Paul II Seminary before going back to the shrine.
Relics were also venerated through the evening. The first relic venerated was a piece of the blood-stained cassock that John Paul II was wearing when he was shot in 1982. That relic, which was a gift of Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, was venerated Saturday evening and early Sunday morning prior to the Mass of Canonization. It was also venerated later Sunday at Saint Stanislaus Church and the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut.
The other relic was brought out for veneration after the canonization was made official. It is a vial of John Paul II’s blood which was given to the Knights of Columbus by Cardinal Dziwisz of Krakow, who served as the pontiff’s long-time secretary. There were long lines waiting to venerate both relics.
Two Masses were celebrated during the events surrounding the canonization. They included a Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday at midnight and a Mass of Thanksgiving later Sunday morning that included the blood relic. Reverend Gregory A. Gresko, the shrine’s chaplain, celebrated both Masses. Confessions were also heard on multiple occasions.
Before the canonization, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was said, along with Benediction following that. Immediately after that, the EWTN feed was shown on all the televisions in the room being used as the chapel. Those in attendances clapped and reacted warmly when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Cardinal Wuerl , and Pope Francis were shown.
Local television crews showed up early Sunday morning and interviewed families attending the day’s events and remained for the renaming ceremony and unveiling of the sign out at the front entrance from Harewood Road. Patrick Kelly, the shrine’s executive director officiated at the renaming and Deputy Supreme Knight Logan Ludwig spoke. A banner bearing the words Blessed John Paul Shrine was removed to reveal the new permanent sign bearing the words Saint John Paul II National Shrine.
Other events at the shrine included a coffeehouse with musical , the recently-updated “Be Not Afraid: The Life and Legacy of John Paul II”” exhibit with memorabilia and personal effects from John Paul II, and a continental breakfast in the shrine’s rotunda. The documentary film was also shown numerous times and the Divine Mercy chaplet was said again Sunday afternoon.
It was also announced that there will be a Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, May 11 at noon in the Upper Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Cardinal Wuerl will be the celebrant and homilist. It was also announced that Archbishop Lori of Baltimore, who is Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus will be participating. Following the Mass there will be a procession to the Saint John Paul II Shrine for the Divine Mercy chaplet and veneration of relics.
Throughout the weekend, there were displays and discussions of future plans for the shrine. A new 16,000-foot exhibit regarding John Paul II’s life and teachings will open on the lower level of the shrine this summer. That exhibit will be called “A Gift of Love: The Life of Saint John Paul II.”
Starting in January, the space that was used as a chapel this weekend will be renovated into a new chapel for the shrine. It will be completed in 2015. The new chapel, along with the current chapel which will serve as a reliquary chapel, will feature mosaics created by Father Marko Ivan Rupnik. Rupnik also created the mosaics in the Knights of Columbus chapel in Connecticut.
The events this weekend at the Vatican and in Washington were inspiring and exciting. The future plans for the National Shrine appear to be well-thought out and should make it a destination for Catholic pilgrims and Washington tourists alike.
Jeff Quinton lives in Maryland and blogs at QuintonReport.com.
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