By Alan Holdren
Blessed John Paul II was remembered Saturday with celebrations all over Rome on Oct. 22, his first feast day since his May 1 beatification earlier this year.
Among other events in Rome, the day was celebrated with a pilgrimage from one papal basilica to another.
Cardinal Angelo Comastri, head priest of St. Peter’s Basilica, started off the pilgrimage in St. Peter’s Square in the early afternoon. It concluded four hours later with a prayer vigil at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The Diocese of Rome’s vicar, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, then celebrated Mass.
The blessed’s personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisc of Krakow, Poland, celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s earlier in the day with more than 200 other priests and several cardinals and bishops.
In his homily, the Polish cardinal said John Paul II can inspire the new evangelization.
“Committing ourselves to this work,” he said, “we fulfill in the best way the testament the blessed introduced to the Church in the third millennium of Christianity.”
Also on Saturday, Cardinal Comastri celebrated Mass at Rome’s Shrine of Divine Love. He blessed a new mosaic depicting Bl. John Paul II. The shrine, on the city’s southern edge, was visited by the late Pope just months into his papacy.
Though John Paul II was elected a week prior to Oct. 22, the chosen feast day, the date marks the official beginning of his pontificate in 1978.
The blessed’s memory was also celebrated with multiple Masses, prayers and reflections at the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, a Marian sanctuary dedicated to Divine Mercy. Bl. John Paul II established the church himself and it is now a major pilgrim destination, particularly for Poles, in Rome.
Ken Smith of Dover, Delaware, recounted his memories of the Pope’s election in a conversation with CNA on the steps of Santo Spirito.
“I remember when I heard the news,” he said
He heard it on the radio and thought it “amazing” that a Pole would be Pope.
Not long after that, he saw Pope John Paul II for himself.
“We actually were at a Wednesday audience back in 1979,” Smith said.
“I remember him coming down that aisle and the sun came out. My sister had been here a little earlier and she had the same experience. The sun shone on him and he glowed. It was wonderful.”
This year, Ken had happened upon the church a day before the feast along with his wife, Lida. They were visiting Rome as a stop on a Mediterranean cruise.
The stop at Santo Spirito was a special moment for them. An enormous painting of Bl. John Paul II was placed behind the main altar for the feast day. There is also a side chapel dedicated to his memory, complete with a blood relic donated by Cardinal Dziwisc.
“It was a thrill for me because I have a Polish background and he means the world for me and our people,” said Lida.
Her most lasting memory of the Pope?
“His smile mostly, how he suffered and never complained. He’s just a great role model.”
Meanwhile, the Polish priest who is in charge of promoting John Paul II’s cause for sainthood, Fr. Slawomir Oder, told Vatican Radio that with the first feast day comes a special grace for all those who have prayed for his intercession to bear children.
“For many little Karols, Carolinas and John Pauls born after these prayers,” said Fr. Oder, “the liturgical memory will be the first name day celebrated in the company of their Holy Patron.”