For the redemptive suffering it represents, a first-class relic of St. John Paul II—blood in a liquid state—is reminiscent of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus, which the Church celebrates in July.
Cardinal Dolan made the comparison at a late afternoon Mass he offered July 13, the second day of the relic’s two-day stop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Approximately 18,000 visited the relic both days, according to Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of the cathedral. New York was one of several U.S. cities the relic is visiting in the coming months.
Young and old alike waited reverently and patiently in long lines in the cathedral’s main aisle and along the altar rails to pray up close to the relic, which was displayed in the sanctuary. Veneration ceased during Mass times but the relic was used during liturgies for a blessing over the congregation.
The relic visit was sponsored by the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., in cooperation with the Knights of Columbus, which administers the shrine and houses the relic there.
“We’re looking at the blood of St. John Paul II, but I think you will all agree with me that, in many ways, he had the Precious Blood of Jesus running through his veins…as, he would remind us, it should run through the veins of all believers,” the cardinal said in his homily at the cathedral’s 5:30 p.m. Sunday Mass.
“John Paul II taught us not only how to live, John Paul II taught us how to die,” continued the cardinal of the pontiff who humbly “allowed the world to watch him die” as he steadily grew weaker in public appearances before his death in April 2005.
“The more in pain he was, the more frail and fragile he was, the more he radiated Jesus Christ,” the cardinal said. “John Paul radiated for us the suffering, the passion, the death, of Jesus Christ.
“How fitting, in this month of the Precious Blood of Jesus,” the cardinal concluded, it is that there before all is the relic of Pope John Paul II “that we venerate this evening.”
Concelebrants included Archbishop Charles Balvo, apostolic nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan, a native New Yorker who was ordained a priest of the archdiocese; Msgr. Ritchie, and Father Gregory Gresko, chaplain of the St. John Paul II National Shrine.
The saint who was renowned for outreach to youth would have been pleased by the outpouring of young people. Among them was Gabrielle Connolly, 9, an incoming fourth-grader at St. Frances de Chantal School in the Bronx.
She planned to place the prayer card of St. John Paul II she received at the cardinal’s Mass on the wall above her bed. Gabrielle was fortunate to get a prayer card, as a total of nearly 8,000 cards were fully distributed, according to the Knights of Columbus.
Accompanying Gabrielle were her father, Sean Connolly, and grandmother, Carol Connolly.
Sean Connolly, 47, is a past grand knight of the St. Frances de Chantal Knights of Columbus Council 306. “It’s great to see this many people here,” he said. “Everybody’s still waiting in line—waiting and waiting just to be a part of it,” he said of the files of faithful who prayed before the relic until veneration concluded at 8 p.m. Sunday. Pope John Paul II “brought a lot of people back to Church, myself included,” he added.
On the minds of all three Connollys was Robert Connolly, 71, husband, father and grandfather, who suffers from polio but came through cancer surgery after being given a medallion of the late pontiff that bears the inscription “Do Not Be Afraid.”
Mrs. Connolly said she cried as she said a prayer on behalf of her husband, at his request, before the relic.
Soccer jerseys aplenty could be seen in the cathedral—including those worn by a group of nearly two dozen 14-year-old boys from Mexico who had just finished watching Germany beat Argentina to win the World Cup at a nearby restaurant. The youths, who were attending a Catholic camp, then took their rightful place in line to view the relic alongside their adult chaperones.
“Beautiful” was how Sharla Cloutier, 29, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Manhattan, summed up the Mass and relic. The cardinal’s homily reference to “redemptive suffering” resonated with her.
“Sometimes in life we think we can just get away from all the suffering, but JPII really taught us to embrace the cross as a way to draw closer to Christ,” she said.
Seeing the relic was crucial to Ms. Cloutier. “In my lifetime, I never had a chance to see JPII, but knowing what he’s done for the world, and what he’s done for me as a young person, even founding World Youth Day,” which she attended in Madrid, Spain, in 2011, prompted her to come to the cathedral.
In 2011, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and longtime personal secretary to Pope John Paul II, presented a reliquary containing Pope John Paul II’s blood to Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. The relic was entrusted to the Knights to foster devotion to St. John Paul II at the Washington, D.C., shrine.
Father Gresko, the shrine chaplain, said at the beginning of Mass that the relic is a reminder “that God calls us to holiness, in a way that is written on the heart of every person—man and woman, young and old, rich and poor, lay person and clergy, that we are to love God and we are to love neighbor, in an intimate encounter of our hearts in the heart of Jesus and the hearts of our brothers and sisters created in God’s image and likeness.”
After the liturgy, as he paused from placing religious articles of the individual faithful against the relic for a blessing, Father Gresko told CNY he was thrilled by the late pontiff’s appeal “to bring the people of New York, virtually magnetically, to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”
“In honoring his legacy and his life,” Father Gresko continued, “the people of New York will do best to seek to love each other with the kind of love that he expressed to everybody, at a very personal level encounter, wherever he went.”