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To touch a saint

Thousands line up to venerate relic of John Paul II in South Florida

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Servants of the Pierced Hearts stand by as people venerate the relic of Pope John Paul II.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Servants of the Pierced Hearts stand by as people venerate the relic of Pope John Paul II.

MIAMI | Aurora Serrano saw Pope John Paul II in person 26 years ago, when he visited the parish that has been her home for the past 46 years, St. Mary Cathedral.

The 82-year-old Serrano got to see him again, in a way, Nov. 3, when a first-class relic of the soon-to-be saint stopped at the cathedral on its way to visiting a dozen archdiocesan parishes and schools — including a stop Nov. 5 at a gathering of young people hosted by St. Thomas University’s campus ministry.

“It’s like seeing him for the second time — body and blood. I feel so moved. I very much feel his blessing,” said Serrano, one of hundreds who lined up to venerate the relic after Archbishop Thomas Wenski welcomed it to the archdiocese at the 10 a.m. Mass.

Religious with the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary wave handkerchiefs as the relic of Blessed John Paul II enters the cathedral.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Religious with the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary wave handkerchiefs as the relic of Blessed John Paul II enters the cathedral.

Thousands more would line up to do the same as it continued its 11-day pilgrimage through South Florida.

The relic is an ampoule of blood — one of four — preserved from those taken from John Paul II during his last hospitalization, just before his death in April 2005. It is mounted on a uniquely shaped reliquary: a book of the Gospels with its pages opened, similar to the one placed atop John Paul II’s casket during his funeral Mass.

On one side, the sculpted book has the familiar image of John Paul’s crosier; the other has an engraved image of his coat of arms and the first words he uttered after becoming pope: “Be not afraid.”

This is the only traveling relic of Blessed John Paul II, who will be canonized, along with Blessed John XXIII, on the Sunday after Easter 2014, the feast of Divine Mercy. The relic was present at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro this summer, and it was brought to the archdiocese by the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

A young man venerates the relic of Pope John Paul II.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

A young man venerates the relic of Pope John Paul II.

Mother Adela Galindo, founder and superior of the community, explained that she was in Rome this past April dining with Msgr. Slawomir Oder, the postulator of John Paul II’s cause for canonization. When he mentioned the traveling relic, she told him, “I want it. I want it to take to the archdiocese.”

He replied that she might have to wait a while, as the calendar showed no openings until after summer 2014. But, he added, “If John Paul II wants to go, he will open up a space.”

Sure enough, Mother Galindo said, when Msgr. Oder opened his iPad to check the calendar, there had been a cancellation for the month of November.

On Oct. 31, Mother Galindo and Sister Ana Margarita Lanzas, a member of her community who serves as director of the archdiocesan Office for Religious, picked up the relic in Rome and flew with it to Miami, arriving here Nov. 1. They must return it to Rome Nov. 23 — the vigil of the closing of the Year of Faith.

Normally, the traveling relic must be accompanied by the postulator or vice-postulator of the cause for canonization, Mother Galindo said. “It demonstrates tremendous confidence that he entrusted it to our congregation.”

She explained that the Catholic tradition of venerating saints’ relics dates back to the time of St. Paul, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 19: “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.”

“What heals is the power of Christ,” Mother Galindo said, “who lives in that person who has reached the heights of heroic love” — what the Church considers sainthood.

“Through the sanctity of these men and women we see Christ in a real and tangible way,” she said.

John Paul II was that presence of Christ for others while he lived, providing an impetus for the spiritual healing of many, motivating them to return to God and the sacraments.

“What moved these souls? The presence of Christ in John Paul II,” Mother Galindo said.

In the same way, “objects that touch the saints have a special communion with the healing grace of Christ,” she said.

ON RELICS
The Catholic Church distinguishes among three “grades” of relics:
  • a first-class relic is part of the body of a saint, such as a drop of blood or a fragment of bone
  • a second-class relic is an object that belonged to a saint, such as a piece of his clothing or a prayer book
  • a third-class relic is anything that has come in contact with a first-class relic.
In an interview with Zenit, Msgr. Slawomir Oder, postulator of the cause for canonization of John Paul II, explained: “…it is always necessary to remember that it is not about a magical aspect: the relics are a sign of the presence of saints in our midst, the historical and concrete sign. It’s not a magical reality but a recalling of the person’s values, of his teaching.”

There are only four first-class relics of the blood of John Paul II, which was preserved by his personal secretary, Cardinal Stanis³aw Dziwisz, from the vials of blood taken for testing while the pope was hospitalized for the last time. Three of them are permanently housed in churches in Rome, Krakow and Madrid. The fourth is the one that travels the globe and visited Miami this month.
Any object that touches a relic — such as the prayer cards and handkerchiefs the sisters are giving out at each stop — becomes a kind of relic itself. And just as the Christians in St. Paul’s time took their “handkerchiefs and aprons” to the sick, so too those who venerate John Paul II’s relic are to go out on mission, Mother Galindo said.

“Go to your homes and pray with your sick, with your families, with your children,” she said. “Make it a mission to go pray with the sick in your neighborhood,” or with those in prison, or with the elderly and the infirm. “That way, John Paul II will be able to reach them.”

The relic’s final public stop in the archdiocese will be at St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center in Coral Gables Nov. 21. In between it will make private stops at both the minor seminary in Miami and the major seminary in Boynton Beach; at Mercy Hospital in Miami; and at six Catholic schools.

The relic will be in the Orlando diocese Nov. 8 and in St. Augustine’s cathedral Nov. 11. On Nov. 17, the sisters will take it to the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., where members of their community staff the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center at Illinois State University.

For a complete list of pilgrimage stops and times, click here.

A woman touches a handkerchief to the relic of Pope John Paul II during its first stop in the archdiocese, at St. Mary Cathedral.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

A woman touches a handkerchief to the relic of Pope John Paul II during its first stop in the archdiocese, at St. Mary Cathedral.

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