By Adelaide Mena/Catholic News Agency/EWTN News — Hundreds of pilgrims and faithful from all states of life flocked to the St. John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to celebrate the late pope and recently canonized saint’s first universal feast day.
“To be able to celebrate in the presence of a saint on their first feast day, I think is just a point of great grace for the local church and all the pilgrims that come here,” said Father Jonathan Kalisch, O.P, chaplain of the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, to CNA Oct. 22.
This presence, he said, was apparent in the large and diverse crowd who came to participate in a feast day Mass at the shrine.
At the Mass, there were “over 550 young people, the elderly, there were Polish pilgrims, the consecrated, the sisters, there were male religious,” Father Kalisch explained. “ When I was celebrating the Mass, I thought, ‘he’s brought them here.’”
Father Kalisch gave the homily at the first celebration of the Feast of Saint Pope John Paul II at the saint’s shrine in Washington, D.C. A relic of St. John Paul II’s blood, as well as a bloodstained piece of his cassock from the 1981 attempt on his life, are present for veneration at the shrine.
St. John Paul II served as pope for more than 26 years, from 1978 until his death in 2005. He was canonized earlier this year, on April 27; the Oct. 22 observance of his feast is the anniversary of his papal inauguration.
The Mass was preceded by a recitation of the rosary and followed by a screening of a documentary on the saint’s visits to North America and the recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
Veronica McGraw, a high school student from Alexandria, Va., is learning about the newly canonized saint in her high school classes and said she has come to better understand his teachings and example.
“I really love his love for the human person and the dignity he has for everybody: how every person is made in the image of God and has immeasurable worth,” she said.
Joey Ledonio, another high school student, said he was impressed by the international effect of St. John Paul II’s papacy through his travels and meetings with world leaders. Also striking, Ledonio said, were the sheer number of “all of the people he canonized” during his papacy.
Brendan Peifer, also a teen from Virginia, said that what stood out to him about the late pope’s service and teaching is “his focus on love.”
As a young person, though, Peifer said he was also grateful for the saint’s focus on reaching out to youth: “He was really concerned with the future of the church and the future of the world.”
Father Kalisch highlighted the pope’s witness to “the vocation to sacrificial love” in his homily, pointing to the tragedies John Paul II suffered in his early life with the loss of his family, as well as his ministry to young people and families and work as bishop and later pope in standing for truth and freedom.
The chaplain also spoke later of the pope’s love, and its demonstration in those who were present to celebrate his first feast day at the shrine.
“To see this outpouring of devotion: I was just personally moved to see everybody there and to celebrate today,” he said. “No doubt he wanted them there.”
Above all, though, recognizing the late pope for his holiness is what was at the core of the feast day celebrations, Father Kalisch said.
“It’s just a great joy to be able to call him a saint.”