Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
What more appropriate place for a first-class relic of Blessed John Paul II than at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy?
On Sunday, Aug. 12, the relic, a white linen cloth that holds the blood of the great "Mercy Pope," was permanently enshrined at the national shrine in Stockbridge, Mass., during the 3 o’clock hour of Divine Mercy.
With more than 300 priests and people filling the chapel and after singing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Father Kazimierz Chwalek, the provincial superior of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, incensed the relic and told pilgrims to pray for Blessed John Paul II’s intercession.
“By coming to our shrine, he came to his spiritual home,” Father Chwalek told everyone. “Even though he never visited our shrine in Stockbridge — we were too small at the time — he belongs here as one of the great promoters of Divine Mercy. Now, we can experience his presence and protection more fully.”
It's natural for John Paul II to join the Marians of the Immaculate Conception here. The Marian priests and brothers have been promoting the message of Divine Mercy for 70 years, practically from the first moments it was brought from Poland to America.
Then there’s another strong connection and witness to Divine Mercy. Father Chwalek enshrined the relic in a white marble kneeler in close proximity to first-class relics of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska enshrined on the altar and in a kneeler at the one of the chapel’s side altars.
Close together are the relics of the two greatest promoters of Divine Mercy. It couldn’t be more fitting. Especially since John Paul also beatified and canonized St. Faustina.
Father Chwalek explained how the blood was saved by an administrator at the Agostino Gemelli Teaching Hospital (“The Gemelli”) in Rome after John Paul was hospitalized twice shortly before his death on April 2, 2005.
The blood was drawn for tests, but after John Paul II died, the hospital director did not discard the blood because he considered the Pope to be a holy man. Father Chwalek explained to pilgrims how the director then gave several vials of this saintly Pope’s blood to Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.
Cardinal Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow, Poland, who was John Paul’s private secretary, advisor and friend, presented the relic to Father Chwalek during the Marian priest’s recent visit to Poland.
The cardinal gave the relic in appreciation for the Marians’ long and pivotal role in promoting the official Divine Mercy message and devotion for seven decades.
Father Chwalek reminded the faithful that John Paul said spreading the message of mercy was his special task assigned to him by God: “God called him to be a witness for Divine Mercy.”
Practically from the start of his pontificate, he declared the message. His second encyclical was Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy).
He lived the message of Divine Mercy. He said Divine Mercy was the answer to the world’s problems and the message of the third millennium.
And he established the feast of Divine Mercy for the universal Church.
It was quite a day at the shrine, beginning with Mass.
The enshrinement coincided with the 25th anniversary of the ordination of three Marian priests — Father Chwalek, Father Daniel Cambra, the former provincial, and Father Larry Dunn.
Other priests concelebrating included Marian Father Michael Gaitley, director of the Association of Marian Helpers; Father Joseph Roesch, the Marian vicar general who came from Rome; and Father Antoni Debinski, the rector/president of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland.
In the homily, Father Cambra called the “the Mercy Pope … a reflection of God for all of us,” certainly the three celebrating anniversaries that day. He added that many men became priests through the example and influence of John Paul. Father Chwalek was one of them.
Before Father Chwalek carried the reliquary with the relic at the head of the procession of pilgrims from the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine up the hillside to the Divine Mercy Chapel for the prayers and formal enshrinement, he made a telling observation.
Speaking of the day and John Paul II, he said: “He came here because he wants to be with us. He wants to continue to intercede before the Lord for the various graces we need. He always wants to manifest by his own person his love for Christ and Divine Mercy.”
Then he observed that if people can’t go to Rome, where John Paul’s tomb is, “they can come here and experience his presence, protection, intercession.”
Pilgrims can now do that any day of the year as they visit the chapel, venerate the relic, pray the chaplet and seek to receive and glorify Divine Mercy. St. Faustina and John Paul II will help them.
See highlights of the enshrinement here.