Before reading, CLICK HERE FOR A VIDEO OF THE WEEKEND’S EVENTS
With our home situated next to the Blessed John Paul II Shrine and across the street from the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, our Little Sisters and a few hardy Residents were able to fully participate in the April 26–27 festivities marking Divine Mercy Sunday and the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II.
Subtle changes took place in our neighborhood during the week leading up to the canonization, as the signs in front of the Shrine and the nearby John Paul II Seminary were altered, huge banners were erected on the façade of the Basilica and the JP II Shrine, and technical crews gathered on the property next door.
We joined in the Shrine’s program Saturday evening in preparation for the next day’s main event. After viewing several videos on the life of John Paul in what will eventually become the Shrine’s main worship space, at 9 p.m. we set off with a good sized crowd — in a light rain — for a three-mile Eucharistic procession in the footsteps of John Paul II. Rev. Gregory Gresko, the Shrine’s chaplain, carried the monstrance along the entire route, accompanied by acolytes and Knights of Columbus of various ages and ranks.
The procession began by crossing Harewood Road and winding its way onto the Catholic University campus and around the back of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. We stopped to pray at altars under the east portico of the Basilica and outside McGivney Hall, and then continued on to the chapel of Caldwell Hall. At each stop a meditation was read on a well-chosen theme related to John Paul II (Mary, the family, communications, Divine Mercy, etc.) and a hymn was sung by the seminary schola. One of these was based on the words of Pope John Paul himself, with the refrain repeating “Be not afraid, open wide the doors to Christ.” The sight of the Blessed Sacrament crossing the university campus on such a peaceful spring night was deeply moving.
From the CUA campus the procession headed north on Harewood Road, past our home, around the corner to the Blessed John Paul II Seminary, where an altar was set up outside the main entrance of the building. By then it was almost 11 p.m. and the rain was falling more heavily, so we headed home for the night. The next day we learned that two Residents had spent the whole night in the John Paul II Shrine, praying and singing with the faithful gathered there, among them many young adults. The program, which continued until the live broadcast of the canonization at 4 a.m., included adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Confessions, veneration of the relic of John Paul II, a midnight Mass and an all-night coffee house animated by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
Back home, a few of us rose at 3:30 a.m. to watch the ceremony in Rome live. Then several of us headed back to the John Paul II Shrine for the 9:30 a.m. renaming ceremony, which took place in front of the large sign on Harewood Road. Several officials of the Knights of Columbus spoke and unveiled the new signage bearing the name, Saint John Paul II National Shrine. A Mass of Thanksgiving was then celebrated by Rev. Gregory Gresko and a number of priest concelebrants.
In his homily Father Gresko spoke eloquently of John Paul II’s teaching on Divine Mercy, “We encounter in the message of Divine Mercy the meaning of Saint John Paul II’s entire pontificate. As the message of Divine Mercy is one of respecting truthfully the inherent dignity and value of the human being, each person is precious in the eyes of God, Who gave His life for each one. As John Paul II would explain, ‘This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope.’”
He concluded by evoking the blood of the new saint, which was exposed for veneration in a beautifully designed reliquary in the Shrine’s original chapel. “Saint John Paul II has left us yet another sign to help us along our journey in faith so that we might more readily reach the House of the Father — his liquid blood,” he explained. “This blood testifies to the life of Saint John Paul II, reminding us of the loving encounters he always would seek with other people not in order to receive from them, but rather in order to make a complete gift of himself to them. This blood stands as testimony to the heart of John Paul II, who sought always to be united to the Heart of Jesus through the Heart of Mary.… This blood also brings to mind the assassination attempt made on his life on 13 May 1981, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, where Saint John Paul II would demonstrate to the world a powerful example both of what it means to pursue holiness in our world even to the point of shedding blood in service to the Christian Faith, but also of the power of Divine Mercy, which he embraced in his own life so deeply that he could share such mercy even with his attempted assassin, calling the man who had tried to take his life ‘brother’ and forgiving him for what he had done.”
Father Gresko concluded his homily by quoting John Paul II, who saw a link between the attempt on his life in 1981 and his devotion to Divine Mercy, “Right from the beginning of my ministry in the See of Saint Peter in Rome, I considered this message my special task. Providence has assigned it to me in the present situation of man, the Church and the world. It could be said that precisely this situation assigned that message to me as my task before God.”
In the afternoon several Little Sisters attended the Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., preacher for the papal household, was the main celebrant and homilist. He compared the Basilica to the cenacle described in the day’s Gospel, saying that just like the evening when Thomas encountered the risen Lord, so Christ was present among us, eager to give us his peace and his Spirit. He also emphasized that divine mercy is more than a love of forgiveness — although it is that — it is a visceral, passionate love that must be lived by believers or it will die. The liturgy was reverently animated by a choir made up of seminarians for the Legionaries of Christ who had made the trip from Chesire, Connecticut, by bus. A large image of Divine Mercy hung above the main doors of the Basilica; the same image was adorned with flowers at the foot of the sanctuary.
A display in the crypt included photos of John XXIII and John Paul II visiting the Basilica as archbishops, as well as original portraits of the new saints done by a local Sulpician, and vestments and chairs used during the papal visits of John Paul II to the United States.
As the day came to a close we thanked God for the grace of participating in so many of the weekend’s events, and with the National Shrine of John Paul II next door, for the grace of living in the shadow of a saint.