Catholics flock to cathedral to venerate relic of John Paul II

The Rev. Gregory Gresko , shrine chaplain, returns an object to a parishioner after it was touched to the relic. MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer
The Rev. Gregory Gresko , shrine chaplain, returns an object to a parishioner after it was touched to the relic. MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 22, 2014

In 2005, Melanie Krawiec of Oxford, Chester County, was experiencing the heartbreak of trying to have a second child but seeming unable to do so. A Catholic, she decided to pray to Pope John Paul II, who had died three days earlier.

"I prayed for a sign that I would have another child," Krawiec said.

Six months later, she learned she was pregnant. She would give birth to a lovely baby girl, Sophia.

On Sunday morning, mother and daughter, now 8 years old, were at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, where a relic of the late Polish pope, who was declared a saint in April, was on display for public veneration.

"As soon as I found out about it, I said, 'We have to go,' " Krawiec said.

From Saturday evening through Sunday, the uncommon opportunity to pray before a first-class relic - in this case, a vial of the sainted pontiff's blood - and seek his divine intercession drew long lines of the faithful, who came from near and far.

Sharon Lee, a tourist from Dublin, Ireland, heard about the display of the relic in the news while she was here.

"My family will be absolutely delighted," Lee said. "My sister-in-law is from Poland. She'll be very happy."

For what did she pray to John Paul II? Blessings for her 15-week-old daughter, Estelle, whom she was wheeling in a stroller.

"It's a very special privilege," said Edward Leaney, a mail carrier from Texas who was visiting the Philadelphia area with his wife. John Paul II, who served nearly 27 years as pope, visited Philadelphia in 1979.

The Philadelphia display was part of a relic tour sponsored by the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, in cooperation with the Knights of Columbus, which administers the shrine where the relic is housed.

The relic had been given to the Knights by Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and personal secretary to John Paul II. The blood had been drawn after an assassination attempt on the pope in 1981 in case it was needed medically in the future, according to a shrine spokesman.

The relic is a reminder, the Rev. Gregory Gresko, shrine chaplain, said during a Mass at the Basilica on Sunday, "that God calls us to holiness."

The glass vial of liquid blood is the centerpiece of an ornate golden reliquary set, with 12 red stones for each of Jesus Christ's apostles.

Thousands of people came to view and venerate the relic during recent displays in Boston and New York City. It will be displayed in Orlando in August.

A blood-stained piece of the cassock the pope was wearing during the assassination attempt - considered a second-class relic - has been displayed in Baltimore.

In addition to seeking Saint John Paul II's help or blessing, those who stood in line over the weekend had the chance to come away with a relic of their own. People could have a religious object such as rosary beads or one of the prayer cards being given out Sunday touched to the relic, turning it into what is considered a third-class relic.

Third-class relics are objects touched by a first-class relic, which are a part of a saint's body. Second-class relics are objects such as clothing or jewelry touched by the saint.

Anne Marie Wypijewski, a lawyer who prayed for "family reconciliation," and her husband, a federal worker, came from Gettysburg to take part in the viewing. They were there with a cousin, Thomas Kaminiski, a retired federal employee, who came from Atlantic City.

"I'm Polish American, and we're so proud of this Polish pope," she said. "We came to honor him."

Joan Callan of East Falls said it was "most important" to her to come.

"He lived in our time, and we haven't had too many saints here in our time. We heard him speak," said Callan, a former banking executive.

With her, Regina Walsh, an office manager from Fairmount, said she prayed for some people she knows who are ill.

Callan said she had too many to name.

"I have so many people I pray for. I figure God knows who. Pope John Paul has my list," she said. "There's so much need in the world."

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