DETROIT/ROME (WWJ/AP) – Inside a chapel on the edge of Rome, a nun uses a key to open a wooden wall panel, revealing a hidden niche. Behind glass and stitched loosely to supporting backing hangs a relic of holy suffering: the bullet-pocked, bloodstained undershirt that John Paul II was wearing when a gunman shot him in the stomach in St. Peter’s Square.
The short-sleeved garment bears the initials “JP,” sewn in red cotton thread on the label by nuns who did his laundry. Jagged rips run down from the neck and sides, made when emergency room staff tore open John Paul’s shirt as they raced to save the 60-year-old pontiff’s life.
It’s one of the most remarkable of the endlessly surfacing relics of John Paul, who will be declared a saint on Sunday in the very same square where a Turkish would-be assassin shot him on May 13, 1981.
Relics of John Paul have enjoyed a boom ever since the beloved pope was beatified in 2011, and they are gaining heightened significance – as well as a surge of veneration – ahead of his canonization. The phenomenon has been fueled by John Paul’s longtime Polish confidant and secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, who doles them out to churches that request them. The Vatican also played a role in the relic fever by breaking its own rules to allow worldwide veneration of John Paul’s relics as soon as he was beatified, rather than waiting until he became a saint.
The famous undergarment was discovered by the head nurse in the operating room at Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic as she was cleaning the floor.
“She understood that the undershirt could be important,” said Sister Amelia Cicconofri, who displays the undershirt at Regina Mundi church upon request. “She picked it up, rolled it in a towel and kept it in her closet at home.”
Nurse Anna Stanghellini, who lived out her last years at the church’s convent, donated the shirt to the nuns there, bequeathing a vivid and tangible testimony to John Paul’s physical suffering.
Now, a Birmingham husband and wife have a shared experience with the pontiff who will be canonized Sunday during a ceremony in Rome, Italy.
In 2004, Julie Gheen hoisted her 50 pound wedding dress through Italy for the big moment. “We were able on our honeymoon, while in Rome, to have a private audience with Pope John Paul II and he gave us the special newlywed blessing and shook our hand,” said Gheen.
“It seemed so surreal to me,” said Gheen. “I will say that when we meet him, he was such a peaceful man. He just radiated peace.
“There’s only one JPII, so we were … very blessed to get to meet him while he was still here.”
And much like her wedding day, it’s an event she’ll never forget:
“So as we were going to the Vatican the morning of the blessing the Italians would just shout out, like, cheers for us, strangers on the street actually stopped and clapped for us – which was pretty amazing … it was like a big receiving line,” she said.
Local events to mark the canonizations
At the Orchard Lake St. Mary Schools campus, a repository of Polish Catholic history and where the Polish pope visited as a cardinal in 1969 and 1976, the public is invited to an all-night candlelight vigil beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday.
There will be real-time viewing of the Vatican canonization ceremony at 4 a.m. Sunday. Orchard Lake St. Mary Schools Chancellor Msgr. Thomas Machalski, who also is in Rome, will skype in observations from the day’s event via a big screen later Sunday.
For a full list of events click on [HERE]
At Transfiguration/Our Lady Help of Christians Church, there will be an 11 a.m. mass Sunday in English and Polish to mark the canonizations. The Catholic church is located at 5830 Simon K, Detroit. The church is part of three churches merged together as Blessed John Paul II Parish. Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron has issued a decree that with Sunday’s canonization, the parish will be renamed St. John Paul II.
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