For Catholics in Lake View, the canonization of Pope John Paul II held a special significance.
A standing-room only crowd filled the church on Sunday afternoon for a Mass to celebrate the canonization of the parish’s namesake.
“He taught us how to embrace the cross,” said the Rev. Peter J. Karalus, pastor of St. John Paul II Parish Community, known before Sunday as Blessed John Paul II Parish. “John Paul II was God’s gift to the world at a specific moment in history.”
Beyond the fact that the parish bears the name of one of two saints canonized on Sunday is the feeling among many Catholics that they knew Pope John Paul II, having watched him be elected pope in 1978 and lived through his papacy, until he died in 2005.
“I feel like the pope was somebody most people know, whether you’re young or old, you can relate to him and identify with him,” said Cory James Gallagher, 32, of Buffalo. “For most saints, you know, we’re living in a different century. This is someone we could relate to. This was a special, joyous celebration for people.”
The parish became one, from two other parishes, Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Vincent DePaul, in September 2011, under a process overseen by Bishop Emeritus Edward U. Kmiec. So it was fitting that Kmiec was at the Mass to bless five wooden reliefs depicting crucial moments in the life of John Paul II.
“It’s a wonderful experience and today is a wonderful culmination of all the hard work that everybody did from both parishes,” said Derby resident Mary Lou Creola, 66, who was involved in the parish merger.
Kmiec doesn’t get around as much as he used to, but he told parishioners several anecdotes about being in Rome when the other saint canonized Sunday, John XXIII, was elected pope, and then meeting Pope John Paul II several times.
Kmiec bonded with the Polish pope over their shared heritage, and Kmiec said he was amazed when the pope remembered his name during subsequent interactions.
“The contact he had with people was just amazing,” Kmiec said.
The reliefs were carved by artists in Italy. One relief depicts Pope John Paul II at the wailing wall in Jerusalem in 2000, chosen because of the pope’s work on behalf of Christian-Jewish relations, Karalus said after Sunday’s Mass.
Another is of the pope visiting his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in prison in 1981.
“It’s a great image, because that is how we celebrate reconciliation in the church,” Karalus said. “You sit down together and you talk it out. It’s also sacramental. We celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.”
A third relief shows the pope on the day of his election in 1978, a fourth is of his first visit to Poland after he became pope, and a fifth is of the pope when Rome hosted World Youth Day.
When someone becomes a saint, their images can be blessed for public veneration, Karalus said. The Catholic faithful can pray before those images as if they’re praying before the person, asking that person to intercede for them, he said.
As pope, John Paul II shared in ministering to his flock, as Kmiec did, in the pope’s role as the bishop of Rome, Karalus said.
“So to have a bishop here to help us celebrate elevates our celebration to be ... focused on: We’re all called to follow the Lord,” Karalus said. “And then for our parish, because so many have that lived experience of knowing John Paul, and they witnessed him, we’ve lived in his lifetime, it’s just a great uplift for us and our identity, as a parish, as a community, and not just that, but what’s our mission? Our mission is to strive for holiness ourselves.”