A state-of-the-art exhibit at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine will show that the late Pope’s example of holiness is for every person, not a privileged few, the shrine’s executive director said. “People can realize that they are like John Paul II in this sense. He responded to the Holy Spirit every day of his life and made his life a gift. And we are called to do the same, to make our life a gift to God and to others,” director Patrick Kelly told CNA. Along these lines, the exhibit is titled, “A Gift of Love: the Life of Saint John Paul II.” The shrine is located in northeast Washington, D.C., adjacent to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The 16,000 square-foot basement exhibit will open Oct. 22, the feast day of St. John Paul II, and houses some of his personal items and vestments, including the “iconic white cassock” from his papacy. Videos and touch-screens provide an interactive education on his world travels and major life events, including when he was shot in St. Peter’s Square in 1981, where he attributed his survival to the intercession of the Blessed Mother. “He is a person that so many people saw and related to. So many people say that he touched their lives,” Kelly said. And at the exhibit, every visitor can learn from both the life story of St. John Paul II and the “major themes of his pontificate.” The exhibit tells of the tragedies faced by the young Karol Wojty?a, who lost his brother and father at a young age and suffered under Nazi occupation and the subsequent Communist rule in Poland. Yet he chose “to follow the Holy Spirit” through it all, and “all these experiences he had in the past prepared him to be Pope at a very unique time in history,” Kelly affirmed. Furthermore, his teachings throughout his pontificate on “the dignity of the person, the dignity of labor, the dignity of marriage” have a wide appeal, Kelly added. The Pope canonized saints from various countries and walks of life, and a particular room of the exhibit focuses entirely on these saints. “We want people to realize that holiness is possible in their own personal circumstances. Whatever their state of life, holiness is possible,” Kelly said. Although the shrine is a “national” shrine, the exhibit focuses on the entire North American continent, he noted, adding that John Paul II “did have a very special relationship with the United States, and with all of the Americas.” “We want pilgrims to come from the entire continent to come here and make pilgrimage and ask the intercession of John Paul II,” he said. St. John Paul II’s messages to the United States centered on two themes — religious freedom and caring for the most vulnerable in society, Kelly explained. These are both featured in the exhibit. John Paul II thought the U.S. had a “good sense of religious liberty,” he continued, especially since the Pope hailed from Poland, a Communist bloc country where “religion was suppressed.” And as Pope, he taught that “a nation is judged by how it cares” for the most vulnerable members. He recognized that the U.S. was “a leader in the world” on that issue, the shrine director said. The opening of the exhibit on Oct. 22 will be an all-day affair, beginning at 9 a.m. with opportunities for Mass, confession, and veneration of St. John Paul II’s relics. The current chapel will serve as a reliquary with the Pope’s first-class relics.
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