When the relic of St. Pope John Paul II touched his head, Andrew Lelonek felt like a new man. 

“I feel rejuvenated,” said a beaming Lelonek, a parishioner at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Camarillo. “I leave with hope for the things I pray for, hope for miraculous change.”

The memorable moment came during a special Mass and celebration April 28 at Our Lady of the Bright Mount Church in LA’s West Adams neighborhood marking the 10th anniversary of the Polish pope’s canonization. 

Bright Mount also serves as the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ official shrine to John Paul, and its only Polish parish. Regional dean Father Luis Espinoza, pastor of nearby St. Agnes Church, presided the Mass offered in English, Spanish, and Polish.

In his homily, Bright Mount pastor Father Miroslaw “Mirek” Frankowski, S.Ch., reflected on how the relatively unknown Polish churchman — who visited Bright Mount during a trip to LA in 1976 — went on to become a global force for good during his 27-year reign.

“Pope John Paul II changed the whole world,” Frankowski said. “He was not afraid to go to the places where people were oppressed and suffering because of political conflicts or wars.

“He tried to reach every heart and every soul of all peoples with his compassion, love, and mercy.”

Father Miroslaw “Mirek” Frankowski, S.Ch., left, pastor at Our Lady of the Bright Mount Church, and Father Luis Espinoza look on as a parishioner kisses the relic of John Paul.

The celebration began with the Divine Mercy chaplet, a devotion originated by Polish mystic St. Faustina Kowalska and made popular by John Paul’s establishment of Divine Mercy Sunday. During the recitation, parishioners asked for God’s grace and the faith to trust in Jesus.

“Jesus, I trust in you; this is my prayer every day,” said Boguslawa Doerr, who heads the Los Angeles chapter of the John Paul II Foundation. “It makes me stronger. St. John Paul II gave us this. He has been a huge influence on my life.”

John Paul was officially canonized by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014, on Divine Mercy Sunday. He was found eligible for sainthood after being credited with two miracles that happened after his death on April 2, 2005.

Frankowski told parishioners their beloved intercessor healed thousands more, including one man sitting in the pews whose story was so compelling it was submitted to the Vatican. 

In the early 2000s, Michael Mietek Dutkowski was suffering from multiple health conditions, including liver failure. He says parishioners from Our Lady of the Bright Mount and the St. John Paul II Polish Center in Yorba Linda began praying for his recovery through the intercession of John Paul.

“Prayers were answered, I was healed,” Dutkowski said. “My documents with medical history were delivered to the Vatican by the president of the John Paul II Foundation and included in the process of the beatification … [but] I believe he was a saint while alive.”

In addition to individual blessings with the first-class relic of John Paul’s hair, worshippers were invited to kneel and pray where the saint once sat. In 1976, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla visited the parish, stayed overnight in the rectory, then celebrated Mass. 

Several parishioners remember that day with awe. Andrew Goska was only 10 years old at the time but sensed something special about the man and the moment.

“The way he spoke to people, it was like the Holy Spirit was present,” said Goska, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Bright Mount. “I feel [my faith] has a lot to do with him being there shaking our hands and touching our souls. It was very powerful.”

Casey Habrat was also at this acclaimed Mass. He remembers the cardinal trying to connect with every person, a trait he carried into his papacy.

“What I really respect about him is that he took the Vatican out of the Vatican,” said Habrat, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Bright Mount. “He went out where the people were and didn’t wait for them to come to him.”

Several parishioners at the event dressed in Polish garb and followed the Mass with a reception including kielbasa, pierogies, and more. (Victor Alemán)

Most of the Mass-goers seemed to have a personal story about John Paul, including Father Frankowski. The Polish native said when he was discerning the priesthood, he prayed for a sign and got one through a dream.

“There’s Pope John Paul II sitting in the main chair of the sanctuary of the church,” Frankowski recalled. “My Mom says, ‘Well, Mirek, go and serve the pope.’ When I woke up, I knew what I had to do and I entered seminary.”

Admiration for John Paul and Polish culture was evident throughout the Mass. Father Espinoza wore a vestment bearing John Paul’s face while some parishioners opted for classic folk attire. Chris Grzelecki, in a dark wool vest and colorful striped pants, helped bring the gifts to the altar. 

“I came here for tradition, a lot of tradition,” said Grzelecki, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Bright Mount. “Yet it was nice to see so many different nationalities come together and share a reverence for Pope John Paul.”

Following Mass, attendees enjoyed a reception that included kielbasa, pierogies, stuffed cabbage, and further reminiscing about John Paul. Frankowski hopes the saint’s lessons are remembered in these times of global peril. 

“His legacy is the same as Jesus Christ,” Frankowski said. “He taught us to love one another, respect one another, and respect the freedom of all people.”