By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published November 10, 2011
The Archdiocese of Atlanta commemorated the first feast day of Blessed John Paul II on Friday, Oct. 21, with a Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama at the Cathedral of Christ the King and veneration of a first-class relic of the late pope, who was beatified May 1. Prior to the Mass, many gathered to recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet in the parish hall. The celebration at Christ the King included a performance on Saturday of the play “Lolek,” a one-man multi-media show on the young adulthood of John Paul II.
Memorial Mass Of Thanksgiving
Sharon Zukauckas, of the Cathedral of Christ the King, was the organizer for the events at the Cathedral, including the Memorial Mass of Thanksgiving, authorized by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory in response to the devotion to Blessed John Paul II in the archdiocese. The Mass, which included readings in both English and Polish, was also attended by members of the Polish Catholic community in Atlanta.
Zukauckas and her husband, Deacon Gerald Zukauckas, have had an intense devotion to the late John Paul since the early 1980s. They met him at the Vatican in 1982—“he put his arms around us”—and she felt that he was “choosing Gerry and I then.”
They attended several more papal events in Europe over the years—Westminster, England, Lourdes, and the beatification Mass this year—and she reiterated her feeling of being selected to do good in his name. “When heaven calls,” she said, “you can’t say no.”
After the beatification Mass in May, she wanted to thank God for the blessings she had received from Blessed John Paul, and she was instrumental in organizing events to commemorate the first feast day.
At the Mass, the altar of the Cathedral was adorned with the large, simple portrait of Blessed Pope John Paul II, the image of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, patroness of Poland, and a striking display of yellow flowers.
Bishop Zarama in his homily remembered the late pope as a “man who changed the world … by the power of love.” He spoke of Blessed John Paul II’s life and how he lost his mother, brother and father. And yet, “he was not full of hatred, he was full of love.”
Bishop Zarama asked the congregation, “How many times a day do we say the word love?”
“We love … pizza,” Bishop Zarama said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. He went on to say, “We don’t know any more what love means. How can we be like John Paul if we don’t know the true meaning of love means sacrifice?”
He challenged those present to follow the example of the late pope. “We don’t make time for God. If we love, we need to make time. … If we don’t open ourselves in prayer, it will be very difficult to follow (John Paul II’s) example.”
“It’s a hard decision between TV and prayer,” said the bishop, but he said, “Do you love (Jesus) more than this?”
One of those attending the Mass, Carol Willey, a parishioner of Christ the King, said that she came to the Mass because of her love for Blessed John Paul. “Any opportunity to give him honor,” she said. “He’s so important.”
Earlier in her life, Willey had battled cancer, which had been destructive to her life as a whole. She believes the pope was helpful in her recovery and said, “Pope John Paul II was a wonderful witness of faith.” She said it started after he was shot (in 1981) and had to go through many illnesses and healings after that. “I just feel his witness is important.”
Willey, who works at the public library, said, “He stood up for life. Any of us could be in war, in his situation. He just lived such a holy life.”
Veneration Of The First-Class Relic
Immediately following the Mass was a time for veneration of a rare first-class relic of Blessed John Paul II, brought to the Cathedral by Society of Christ Father Piotr Nowacki of the Blessed John Paul II Polish Catholic Apostolate, which is based at St. Marguerite d’Youville Church in Lawrenceville.
The relic consists of several drops of blood on a tiny piece of cloth sent to the Polish Apostolate by the late pope’s personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland. Four vials of blood were drawn from Pope John Paul during the final stage of his illness by his personal physician, in case a transfusion was needed. No transfusion was ever needed, and after the death of Pope John Paul on April 2, 2005, two of the vials went to Cardinal Dziwisz and the other two remained in the custody of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul at the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome.
At the veneration, Anna Oberc of the Polish Apostolate read a poem for Blessed Pope John Paul, entitled “A Letter From Heaven,” by Ruth Ann Mahaffey. Oberc said that she wanted to read a poem by Pope John Paul, but his “poems are very deep and refer to when he lost his parents and brother.” She found this poem instead and shared it at the veneration. Originally from near Krakow, Oberc has lived in the U.S. for almost 18 years.
One of the founders of the Polish Apostolate is Dr. Elzbieta Gürtler-Krawczyñska. She said that they applied to get the relic as part of the 25th anniversary of the apostolate in Atlanta, and they intended for Pope John Paul to be their patron saint. “We waited for Pope John Paul II,” she said.
Father Nowacki said that the relic arrived in Atlanta by “special delivery.” It will reside permanently in the adoration chapel at St. Marguerite d’Youville Church, alongside relics from Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Faustina. “They are all prepared the same,” he said, “three in the same chapel.”
People can come by all the time, said Father Nowacki. “Everyone may go into the chapel and pray.”
Sharon Zukauckas was pleased with the turnout for the Mass and the play at the Cathedral, which she believes to be a great way to evangelize. She said that “Lolek” was a “way of using theater to show the emotion and spiritual journey” of the young man who became pope.
Many who attended contacted her after the performance, like Jim Hubbard of St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville, who said it was “marvelous … and very interesting.”
Zukauckas said, “We wanted to honor (Blessed Pope John Paul). … It was his first feast day.”
She said, “Pope John Paul was all about Christ and Mary and love and welcoming everyone. He was a perfect model, and everyone loved him.”