- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2014

When Cheverly resident Reton Gaffney couldn’t make it to Rome for the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, she found a local way to participate in Catholic Church history.

Ms. Gaffney, 68, made the drive Sunday to Northeast Washington, where she helped celebrate the sainthood of both popes and the christening of the Saint John Paul II National Shrine.

“This is such a wonderful occasion,” Ms. Gaffney said. “He’s just the epitome of a human being, a wonderful human being. Pope John Paul II evangelized to the whole world. His spirit lives on forever.”

While hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Vatican City to be present for the canonization, the excitement and pride of those at the shrine appeared just as strong.

“He’s a saint for our time, here and now,” said Patrick Kelly, executive director of the shrine formerly known as the National Shrine of Blessed John Paul II, as he unveiled the new signage featuring the designation of sainthood. “He’s also a man and saint for the ages. Future generations will see what a great man he was.”

The Polish pope, along with his Italian colleague John XXIII, were canonized in a landmark ceremony attended by Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

The shrine broadcast the canonization at 3 a.m. to the faithful in attendance, including 65-year-old Carol Ball, who arrived at 7:30 p.m. Saturday to take part in the overnight events.

Wearing a flower wreath in her hair and a camera around her neck, Ms. Ball, a University Park resident, said it was important for her to attend the event because her mother was fond of John Paul II, and “you don’t see this very often.”

“One thing that’s meant so much to me was in 1993, I went to Rome and sang with a choir,” Ms. Ball said, her voice catching. “We had an audience with John Paul II and he sang with us. That was a phenomenal event. When you see him in person, he radiates. It’s like the face of God is looking at you personally.”

The shrine’s Mass of thanksgiving was celebrated in the main church, a bright, long hall which held a standing-room-only crowd.

Families dressed in their Sunday best joined the shrine’s Father Gregory A. Gresko in celebrating the canonization and recognizing “Divine Mercy Sunday,” a day designated by John Paul II during his papacy.

At the beginning of his pontificate, John Paul II said “do not be afraid to open wide the doors to Christ,” Father Gresko said. “Instead of living in fear, man is called to hear God’s voice speaking of divine mercy.”

The shrine named after John Paul II was first opened in 2001 as a cultural center and taken over by the Knights of Columbus in 2011. Last month, the site was elevated to the status of a national shrine by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This summer a 16,000 square foot exhibit is scheduled to open.

“Our hope is this shrine dedicated to John Paul II now takes a special place in the already vibrant Catholic Church of this area,” said Logan Ludwig, deputy supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.

The mass was just one of many events hosted at the shrine in honor of the canonization. A Mass of thanksgiving at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is scheduled to be celebrated May 11 and will be led by Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl.

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