On April 27, the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, together with more than one billion Catholics worldwide, celebrates the fifth anniversary of the canonization of Saint John Paul II. It has been five years since the entire Catholic Church began venerating the pope of the family as a saint.
Every saint opens a new window in heaven that brings God’s light to the world. Every saint has a mission that begins on earth and reaches fulfillment in heaven. For example, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote, “When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.”
During the homily of the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II, the then Cardinal Ratzinger said, “We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us.”
Since the beginning of Christianity, the memory of the saints has been very important for the edification of the Church. We remember the saints in order to remember Christ. As the Didache says, “Seek out by day the faces of the saints, in order that you may rest upon their words.”
Where can we seek the face of Saint John Paul II in order to rest upon the words of his teaching? We remember the saints, whose lives were transfigured by God’s grace, during the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass. We also encounter the saints when we experience their intercession. The saints are our brothers and sisters, whose company and friendship help us walk the path toward our destiny.
Saint John Paul II had a special charism for gathering people. The crowds surrounding him consisted of individuals, each of whom he treated as unique and unrepeatable. He understood every meeting as a concurrence of two persons, each in the image of Christ. Those crowds were not centered upon the figure of the pope but rather upon Jesus Christ.
Saint John Paul II helped us enter into dialogue with God. Millions of lives were transformed by his witness of faith and holiness. Now, in the communion of the saints, he continues to draw many to faith in God through his example and intercession. Like Abraham, Saint John Paul II’s faith has generated innumerable descendants (cf. Gen 15:5).
The most important part of John Paul II’s legacy is that people were inspired by his example and helped by his intercession to follow Jesus Christ and serve the Church. Multitudes were inspired by the Polish pope to live the faith with joy and enthusiasm.
These people are Saint John Paul II’s people
At the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, we see many people who love and are devoted to the saint. Here, we witness that the memory of the holy pope continues to generate a people. Saint John Paul II’s people are not solely made up of those who lived during his lifetime but also those born after his death.
Every day at the shrine, we meet visitors who have been personally touched by John Paul II. There is always a sense of excitement about their anecdotes.
There are countless stories of encounters with John Paul II. “I shook his hand and could feel Mary’s presence …” “I saw him drive by at a Wednesday audience and he looked directly at me …” “I asked for his intercession to repair my marriage and my prayers were answered on his feast day…” The stories go on and on.
While every story is unique, they share a commonality: each encounter with John Paul II is characterized by intimacy and familiarity. During visits from school groups, we also see how the people’s love for John Paul II has spread to the younger generation.
Children who never knew him, who were born after he died, nevertheless see the greatness of this saint in their teachers’ faces and stories. Children will often boast to us about their personal connections. “My pastor met John Paul II …” “My mother saw him in Rome …” “My brother is named after John Paul …”
In John Paul II’s people, we find the “face” of the holy pope. In communion with his people, Saint John Paul II sees us and blesses us from the window of the Father’s house. Thus, this powerful saint continues to help us love Christ and bear witness to faith in the world.
Father José Cortes, F.S.C.B., is the chaplain of the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. To learn more about the shrine and to book a pilgrimage, please visit jp2shrine.org and follow the shrine on social media at @jp2shrine (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).