By Amanda Woods
A first-class relic of St. John Paul II has arrived at its new home, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church.
Hundreds gathered in the Ridgewood church March 18 for a Mass celebrating a pope who brought them comfort, a cultural connection and a zeal for their faith.
Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki from the Archdiocese of Lviv, Ukraine, who once served as the assistant for Pope St. John Paul II, traveled all the way to Queens to entrust the relic to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal parish.
Now the relic – a lock of hair from the beloved JPII – is there to stay, much to the delight of the pastor, Father Anthony J. Sansone.
“I was very excited, very happy to receive this relic,” Father Sansone said. “I’m hoping and praying it will bring many graces to the parishioners.”
“I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to bring together the entire parish,” he added. “Although we speak three different languages, we see them all as one. That’s one of the benchmarks John Paul II gave us.”
The celebratory Mass was celebrated in English, Polish and Italian. It’s that diversity that Father Sansone believes makes his parish a perfect candidate for the relic – as St. John Paul II himself had an “incredible sense of respect for humanity,” he said.
Archbishop Mokrzycki spoke in Polish throughout the Mass, but in his homily – read by Father Sansone in English – he said that events like Sunday’s celebration “help us grow in faith and share our common sentiments.”
“The memory of our dear saint brings us together here in prayer and in worship,” the archbishop shared. “I had the joy and the honor of closely serving him during the last nine years of his life, and all of us have been encouraged by his humanity and friendship. John Paul II was an example of sincere humanity and profound spirituality, a teacher and a witness of unbreakable faith.”
He recalled the pope as someone who always put prayer first – prostrating himself on the floor every morning and offering the day to the Blessed Mother by praying the Rosary. He never missed a Thursday Holy Hour or Stations of the Cross on Friday.
“All his thoughts were directed towards God and the church,” Archbishop Mokrzycki added. “His life was immersed in prayer. He seemed to be a living prayer.”
When it came to his ministry, he “cared for all” and “took every problem seriously,” according to the archbishop.
“For this reason, contact with him brought closer to God,” Archbishop Mokrzycki recalled. “Often people would tell me after meeting him that supernatural glow flows from his person. Prayer was his oxygen for his soul.”
Toward the close of the Mass, members of the congregation processed to the front of the church to venerate the relic, held in gold reliquary, with a kiss.
Walter Powles, a 35-year-parishioner who has lived in the neighborhood with his wife Katherine for 40 years, was one of them.
“It’s the relic of a great pope and we liked him a lot,” Powles said. “We will pray to him and hopefully we’ll get some answers. It was a great honor to have the archbishop here.”
And Bozena Wrobel, a parishioner who moved to the area from Poland 20 years ago, said through tears that the presence of St. John Paul’s relics is a comfort for her after she lost her husband back in October.
“This is very important for my country, very important for my family,” Wrobel said. “I will come back every Sunday for my husband, for my family.”
Agnieszka Kulikowski, who served as a lector at the Mass, explained that the relic holds a deep meaning for the parish’s Polish community.
“It’s special for us,” Kulikowski said. “John Paul II is close to our hearts. He was Polish. It’s like he is with us.”
Another parishioner, Margaret Baclawski, agreed.
“I feel special that we have it in the church,” she said. “He was a really great person. He was perfect to be the pope. He was born to be the pope.”
When Father Johny Chengalan Thomas, CMI, a parochial vicar at the parish, first learned that the relic would be coming to the parish, he knew it would attract many from the surrounding neighborhood.
“I was thinking that since we have a good demography here, this will become a center for worship,” Father Thomas said. “The people from our neighborhood, the Polish people, it feels like a second home [for them].”
The relic now has a permanent home on the side of the church, next to a statue of the pope, the Divine Mercy image and a statue of St. Faustina. Pope St. John Paul II, who was canonized in 2014 by Pope Francis, was known for his devotion to living and teaching the message of Jesus’ Divine Mercy, as revealed to St. Faustina and recorded in her diary.
All the faithful should strive to model their lives on JPII’s example, Archbishop Mokrzycki emphasized in his homily.
“Perhaps he is more alive now than ever before,” the archbishop said. “So we can request for his relics, so we can request for his intercession. If we venerate him as a saint, if we invoke him as our protector and patron, if we beseech him for intersession, then we should also long to intimate him. We too should strive to be people of God, holy as he was holy.”