On May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday – the feast day established by the late Pontiff – John Paul II was beatified in the same historic square by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI.
To mark the occasion, the Knights of Columbus Museum is hosting a special exhibit, "Blessed: A Tribute to John Paul II," through June 30. It features paintings, photographs, video reflections and personal mementos of the former Pope, whose beatification has been anticipated around the world since his death on April 2, 2005.
Normally, the process of beatification can begin five years after the death of a candidate. By decision of the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, the process of beatification of John Paul II began a month after his death.
Capturing two themes that the Pope left as a legacy – evangelization and the Pope’s courageous embrace of suffering – the museum hosted two lectures in April with Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who coordinated the Toronto World Youth Day (WYD) in 2002 and developed a close working relationship with the Pope.
In his talk April 6, Father Rosica noted that John Paul II called World Youth Days "laboratories of faith," reflecting his belief that young people are not only the future of the Church but also its present.
The experiences of World Youth Days in Argentina, Spain, Poland, Denver, Manila, Paris, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia, Father Rosica said, "brought so much new life to each of the countries where the great events took place."
For instance, he said, there are numerous accounts from young people around the world who have reported having personal experiences with the Pope, when the Pope’s presence was the highlight of various events, that changed their lives.
Father Rosica later told The Catholic Transcript that "John Paul II connected with young people in such a way that many said to me, ‘He spoke to me.’ ‘He looked at me.’ ‘He gazed at me.’ ‘He touched me.’ And they told me that ‘because of that, I made a change in my life.’"
According to Father Rosica, who has served since 2003 as chief executive of Salt and Light Television, Canada’s first national Catholic television network, "It’s the work of the Holy Spirit, and one of the great attributes of being in the presence of holy men and women.
"It’s an aspect of being a mystic," he continued. Being in their presence "has an emotional reaction, yes. But it’s much deeper than that. And there has to be a reception on the part of the person to being open to the Holy Spirit, as well."
He said that many people talk about having had these experiences as the Pope preached a homily, or at a vigil or Way of the Cross, or when the Popemobile passed.
"It isn’t that they just catch a glimpse of the Pope," he explained, "but they experience a long, loving, piercing gaze." And he added that for those who heard John Paul II speak to them in their heart, "they’re able to repeat it word for word years later."
"They’ll say things like ‘I hear it [his words] continually,’ or ‘There was something about his voice’ or ‘I put my head down during the homily and he was talking directly to me.’ And I get these reports from young people in Mexico, Argentina, Italy, France, Germany, the Holy Land … all over."
One young man who was visiting the museum, who declined to give his name, said he had a similar experience at a WYD 10 years ago when the Pope’s motorcade went by. "I can’t explain it, but something went through me," he said as tears welled up in his eyes with the memory of the experience. "It changed my life."
Father Rosica called it "a phenomenon of holiness, a grace of the Holy Spirit. It’s a characteristic or quality of holiness for men and women who are instruments of God’s love."
He noted that even during John Paul II’s televised funeral, "there were many, many faith conversions."
The exhibition at the Knights of Columbus Museum includes 16 paintings by Italian artist Francesco Guadagnuolo that reflect on John Paul’s courageous and faithful witness during his infirmities at the end of his pontificate. In addition, artifacts, personal effects and portraits from the museum’s collection and items loaned from the John Paul II Institute in Washington are on display.
A video presentation about the Pope’s long and close relationship with the Knights of Columbus is also a part of the exhibit.
The museum is located at 1 State St. and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission and parking are free. Information is available at (203) 865-0400.