POLISH HOLINESS. The shrine sanctuary. Courtesy of the Shrine of St. John Paul II
Cardinal Karol Wojtyla came to Los Angeles in 1976, staying for two days at the parish of Our Lady of Bright Mountain — and his legacy there continues with the Shrine of St. John Paul II.
What’s more, on Good Shepherd Sunday 2015, before the first anniversary of St. John Paul II’s canonization, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, joined by other priests, celebrated Mass and officially elevated the church’s shrine as the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. John Paul II.
It was a fitting tribute not only for the saintly pope, but also for the oldest Polish parish in California. In fact, it is the only Polish parish in the City of Angels.
Renovated beautifully in 2012, the church has arms open to greet and care for the spiritual needs of more and more pilgrims and visitors who will find here much to contemplate about Divine Mercy, John Paul II, St. Faustina and other Polish saints and blesseds. It is a fitting pilgrimage for John Paul’s Oct. 22 feast day.
St. John Paul II
Pilgrims and visitors immediately see the saintly Holy Father’s presence in the sanctuary. On the right side of the apse, he is portrayed in a large painting framed in a golden triple arch. It captures that captivating smile of his, which beckons the faithful to approach. His open arms say, “Come close and kneel before the Blessed Sacrament in the central tabernacle” near him. On the altar, the new cross from Poland is unmistakably modeled on John Paul II’s papal cross.
Below his image, which was painted in Poland, there is a first-class relic with an interesting history. It was the first such relic of John Paul II to arrive on this continent. The pastor was on a pilgrimage with Radio Maria in 2011 and had requested a relic. At Jasna Góra, the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, John Paul II’s former personal secretary, Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki of Lviv, Ukraine, handed the pastor the relic.
So John Paul II came back to Los Angeles, in the form of his relic, exactly on the 35th anniversary of his visit and stay at Our Lady of Bright Mountain and coinciding with the parish’s 85th anniversary.
While in America to attend the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, he traveled to the City of Angels for the parish’s Golden Jubilee on Aug. 29-30, 1976, and presided over ceremonies honoring Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Queen of Poland.
The parish’s name comes from Our Lady of Czestochowa’s Jasna Góra Monastery in Poland — Jasna Góra meaning “bright hill” or, here, “bright mountain.”
In fact, when St. John Paul II prayed before the renowned miraculous image of Our Lady of Czestochowa at Jasna Góra in 1979, he used the title of this parish: “Our Lady of the Bright Mountain, Mother of the Church, once more I consecrate myself to you in your maternal slavery of love: Totus tuus! — I am all yours!”
Several large second-class relics of St. John Paul II are also on display. The parish’s administrative assistant, Sebastian Konarski, likes to point out the vestment with the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa that John Paul II wore and the chalice he used celebrating Mass in the church for that anniversary.
There is also the book showing the dedication he personally wrote to the Polish people of the parish. There is no tour of the rectory, which has the bed in which he slept, but in the church there is the chair John Paul II used in the sanctuary; it is the same one the priests still use.
St. John Paul II knelt and prayed in the first pew of the church. A plaque marks the place and includes prayers in English, Polish and Spanish, so that pilgrims and visitors can also sit or kneel to pray where the saint-pope did.
From any pew, they can also meditate on, pray before and admire the painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa in the center of the apse, above the tabernacle.
The central golden triple-arch around Our Lady includes a panorama of Jasna Góra recently painted by an artist from Torun, Poland.
With this particular image of Our Lady, the parish has a connection to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It was donated to the parish by the first Polish Pauline priest to come to America, the late Father Michael Zembrzuski, who was founder of the “American Czestochowa” in Doylestown.
Four copies came out of Poland — two went missing, one went to Doylestown, and the other came here. In a special touch, the new crowns on Our Lady and Jesus were made in Poland.
Divine Mercy Connection
Balancing the painting of John Paul II on the right side of the sanctuary is a similar one of St. Faustina on the left side of the sanctuary. Below her painting is, naturally, a first-class relic of St. Faustina.
How can pilgrims and visitors not take the time and opportunity to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet at this holy site?
So devoted are the parishioners that they like to pray the chaplet in front of the church, asking for mercy on the people of their city.
Every Sunday becomes a pilgrimage day at Our Lady of Bright Mountain. Beginning at 3pm, the hour of Divine Mercy, pilgrims and parishioners can attend Mass, which is followed by the Divine Mercy Chaplet, veneration of the first-class relic of St. John Paul II, adoration and confession, all ending with Benediction. The Mass is celebrated with a rotating schedule of alternating languages in regular order — Polish, English, Spanish and Korean.
The faithful are reminded that many men and women became saints by practicing various works of mercy, as they view and venerate the church’s other first-class relics. One directly connected to Divine Mercy is of Blessed Michael Sopoko, St. Faustina’s confessor and spiritual director, who was close to the revelations and then also spread the devotion himself.
More first-class relics are reminders to pray for the intercession of other Polish saints — Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, the priest-martyr connected with the Solidarity movement; St. Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski, archbishop of Warsaw and founder of the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary, who was exiled by Russians in the 19th century to Siberia for 20 years; and Blessed Sancja Szymkowiak, a nun who died in 1942.
Konarski said that three parishioners in Our Lady of Bright Mountain are blood relatives of Blessed Sancja.
The church’s beautiful new stained-glass windows also depict major heavenly helpers. St. Joseph leads the way. Among the others are several universal favorites, Sts. Thérèse of Lisieux and Anthony of Padua, plus several Polish saints, including Hedwiga and Stanislaus Kostka.
The carved statue of the Sacred Heart in the left sanctuary is right in front of where Cardinal Wojtyla prayed in that first pew. A striking statue of St. Michael the Archangel, much like his image at his shrine at Monte Sant’Angelo in Gargano, Italy, from where this statue hails, also graces this church and shrine because of the great devotion to this archangel at Our Lady of Bright Mountain.
There is also a stone cut from Mount Tabor, the place of the Transfiguration.
Konarski said that the parish, as the official diocesan shrine to St. John Paul II, is looking to invite more pilgrims to come for a retreat, watch a movie on John Paul II and generally experience the shrine, whose atmosphere is so peaceful and highly reverent.
As the church and shrine proclaim, “Walk where St. John Paul II walked. Pray where he prayed.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.