When Joseph and Corinne MacDonald headed to the United States in August to tell young people about the John Paul II Project they founded in Kraków, Poland, they brought along their two young daughters — 3-year-old Marysia and 1-year-old Chiara — and a relic from the saint, his blood on a piece of cloth.
“We thought, ‘If we’re going to come here in person and talk as founders about the project,” Corinne said, “‘we could do it as an apostolate if we could bring John Paul II to people, so people can come to John Paul II.’”
Bring him to the people they have. The U.S. relic tour began on the Aug. 26 feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa and has drawn all ages at stops that have included St. Joseph Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina; Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia; The Catholic University of America and the John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C.; Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania; and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
The MacDonalds asked Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the archbishop emeritus of Kraków and close adviser and friend of John Paul II, as well as a patron of the John Paul II Project, if they could bring a relic and organize times of prayer while in the United States. He agreed and gave them the holy object for veneration.
“We met with him the day before we flew to the States,” Corinne explained. “He gave us so much encouragement for our family. He told us we are carrying out John Paul II’s legacy, and he was so happy we are doing this for the young people.”
Cristina Infante found the project’s relic visit Aug. 29 at Belmont Abbey “saturated with the message and call to all Christians to become saints.”
Infante, who is a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionary on the North Carolina campus, was “particularly struck by our students’ desire to take part in the presentation and the Holy Hour.” As she told the Register, “It was clear that they desired to respond to this call in their own lives. The evening in the chapel with the John Paul II relic was a moment I will never forget. Our chapel was full to capacity as students came forward to pray for their future vocation. It is a moment that they have continued to talk about in the days that followed. John Paul II was truly present amongst us.”
Joseph MacDonald described the time of adoration and Holy Hour as “really moving because of the amount of students that came to it.” Venerating the relic, “all students took their time to place their concerns and worries, to place their vocation, asking John Paul II’s intercession.”
At each stop, the Holy Hour includes selections from John Paul II’s counsels to young people and the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet, followed by veneration of the relic.
The MacDonalds are fresh from the success of the project’s first programs, held this summer in Kraków. Several college students arrived for the project’s study session, at the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Kraków, plus cultural trips through Kraków, Warsaw, and John Paul II’s hometown of Wadowice, and many religious sites, including Wawel Cathedral, the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko’s tomb. In addition, there was a pilgrimage for high-school students connected with John Paul II’s teaching. They hiked in the steps of the saint and visited many places he loved and lived, such as those the college students also visited during the summertime when he was their chaplain.
The MacDonalds founded the program in 2016 in Florida as a nonprofit. Working in study-abroad programs in Rome for nearly five years, Corinne saw “how life-changing the study-abroad experience can be for students, when they are given the guidance and embrace the challenge.” During those years, taking college students on pilgrimage to Poland became a tradition. Corinne and Joseph met in Rome.
Once married and back in the States, the couple took a small group to Kraków for World Youth Day 2016.
“It was there that my husband kept saying to our students, ‘You should come back to study here!’” Corinne explained.
But the “lack of a Catholic program for university students in the ‘City of Mercy,’ in the city of John Paul II, in a country dedicated to Our Lady, with an incredible history and thriving culture, nagged at us.”
Corinne said that, through much prayer, they realized God was asking them to create this opportunity for young people: “We heard the call from the Lord.”
She clarified the essence of God’s call for this project “was to form young people to be builders of a civilization of love and truth” in the age range of 16 to 35.
Young people need more opportunities to be “immersed in an environment that truly shapes them for the good and allows them to be in contact with Our Lady, with Our Lord, Jesus Christ … and the key to sanctity,” Corinne said. They saw “John Paul II as an incredible exemplar for sanctity and building up the civilization of love and truth today.”
The MacDonalds said that John Paul II inspired them to assist in “challenging them (youth) to greatness, in giving them the truth, believing in their capacity for sanctity.”
So they relocated to Kraków in 2017 to spend a year building the program in the heart of “John Paul II country,” where the program will remain.
“John Paul II seems to be everywhere in Kraków,” Joseph said. “We seem to be very close to him living there.”
The MacDonalds appreciate their collaboration with the Archdiocese of Kraków and are grateful for Cardinal Dziwisz’s support.
“He has been really supportive from the very beginning,” Corinne said of the cardinal. “No one knows John Paul II better than Cardinal Dziwisz.”
The project’s first full semester begins Feb. 7, 2019 (classes are in English). There are also upcoming programs, pilgrimages for high-school students, and a “young family” pilgrimage all based on John Paul II’s teachings.
After his summer experience with the “JP2 Project” in Kraków, sophomore Nick George was excited to learn the saint’s relic was coming to his college.
“I wanted to share the power John Paul II and his relic can have on your life. I wanted my whole Belmont Abbey community to have that,” he said.
It was a gathering like he has “never seen at Belmont Abbey. Everything was so alive during that hour.”
“I’ve been a huge fan of John Paul II,” he said, and he said he felt blessed over his six weeks with the project this summer to visit places of significance in John Paul’s life, like where the saintly pope said his first Mass, and elsewhere walk in the footsteps of John Paul II, including participating in a Corpus Christi procession through John Paul’s hometown of Wadowice and going to John Paul II’s home parish. “To see the impact he had on not only Kraków, but on the whole world, strengthened my faith so much.”
4,745 Miles Away
This tour, said Joseph, has been a blessing, having reached hundreds so far. “To literally bring a piece of that faith you find in Kraków to the people here, striving themselves for sanctity, has been really great.”
Concluding the 15 planned stops — the MacDonalds are open to more if requested — will be the relic’s presence at Holy Cross Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The parish will receive the relic as a gift Oct. 22, St. John Paul II’s feast day. Rich in Polish heritage, the church is in a section of the city known as the “Polish Quarter,” and the parish is affiliated with St. John Paul II School.
When the MacDonalds told Father Spencer Howe, the pastor, about the possibility of a relic tour, he asked if the relic could have a permanent home in his parish.
“We asked Cardinal Dziwisz, and he loved the idea of the parish having the relic,” Corinne explained. “We see that God is definitely using this opportunity to bring graces to souls.”
“It’s been a tremendous grace to discover the Polish heritage of faith we have. John Paul II brought that contribution to the global stage — and St. Faustina, too,” said Father Howe, who became acquainted with Corinne when both were studying in Rome.
Father Howe, who is on the project’s board of directors, sees the significance of the relic tour and the project in Kraków.
“It’s easy to take for granted everyone knows John Paul II. But they don’t automatically understand the legacy of John Paul II,” he said. “Young people today, college graduates and high-school students, didn’t have the benefits of his [real-life] witness. The JP2 Project will have the new youth look to him. This is a saint of our age.”
“The relic tour is going to raise the flag for this extraordinary project, opening a door to a beautiful part of the world and one of the most remarkable cities in Europe,” Father Howe added.
Stops before Holy Cross Church include Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, Oct. 16, the 40th anniversary of the saint’s election as pope.
And, due to the current abuse scandal, the tour has taken on greater significance.
“I see it as providential we’re doing this at the same time people are wounded and hurt by what’s happened,” Corinne said. “It’s really beautiful to bring a beautiful message, a light in the darkness, focusing on forming young people … instead of lamenting only on the negative.”
“To witness to all the people, especially in these trying times of the Church,” Joseph added, “is really beautiful and strengthening for us.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.