Students, staff hold special events to honor Bl. John Paul II

By George Gregory
Special to the CS&T

“From now on, Pope John Paul II shall be called ‘Blessed,'” Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed in Latin during the Mass beatifying his predecessor on spanine Mercy Sunday, May 1.

This brings Pope John Paul II one step closer to sainthood, and Pope Benedict’s words brought loud cheers to the largest crowd to gather in Rome since Pope John Paul II’s funeral six years ago.

The ceremony was attended by more than 90 delegations from around the world, including members of five European royal families and 16 heads of state, as well as the more than 1 million faithful who journeyed to Rome for the celebration. {{more}}

In his homily, Pope Benedict praised Blessed John Paul II as “a man with the strength of a titan, who gave millions of people the strength to believe and restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope.”

As Pope John Paul II always encouraged ecumenism by his example, he is also credited with having hastened the fall of communism in the Eastern Bloc in 1989 because of his strong support for the Solidarity trade union in his native Poland. Among the dignitaries in attendance was Poland’s former President Lech Walesa.

Pope Benedict XVI also announced that his predecessor’s feast day will be observed Oct. 22, the date of the inauguration of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate in 1978. His beatification sets a new record for modern times – coming just six years and one month after his death on April 2, 2005.

In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which was honored in October 1979 by Pope John Paul II’s pastoral visit, there was joy among Catholics locally, especially evident in the three schools in the Archdiocese named for him.

These include two regional elementary schools and one archdiocesan high school, which all planned special events to honor their namesake and patron.

In West Brandywine, Chester County, students and faculty of Pope John Paul II Regional Catholic Elementary School will celebrate his beatification Friday, May 6, beginning with First Friday Mass, during which students will be holding candles, and a picture of Blessed John Paul II will be displayed.

At the beginning of Mass, the students will include Blessed John Paul II in the Litany of the Saints. When they sing his name, the displayed picture will be elevated.

“John Paul II’s love for children was so evident in his everyday encounters with them,” said Sister Anne McGuire, I.H.M., principal of the school. “As patron of our school, his life must serve as a model for all we say and do for children each and every day here.”

Later in the day, the children will attend a presentation on the life of Blessed John Paul II by Sister Sheila Galligan, I.H.M., a theology professor at Immaculata University. At the end of the day, students and teachers will enjoy a cool treat of Polish water ice.

At Pope John Paul II High School in Royersford, special events have focused on the themes of Blessed John Paul’s papacy.

On April 6, juniors from Pope John Paul hosted juniors from Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Philadelphia in a forum discussion to increase understanding of the traditions of Jews and Catholics and to dispel any misconceptions.

The forum, called “Friends in Faith,” was organized and conducted by a collaboration of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of St. Joseph’s University, the American Jewish Committee, the Association of Catholic Teachers, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the two high schools.

The high school’s faculty meeting held on Tuesday during Holy Week focused on Blessed John Paul II’s personality and spirituality.

“The beatification of our school’s patron brings us much joy,” said Father Alan Okon, president of Pope John Paul II High School. “We celebrate the man and the person of Blessed John Paul II, who showed the world what it means to live life to the fullest as a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Blessed John Paul challenged “people to develop a vibrant relationship with God in all they do. At our school, we seek to embody his charisms in every aspect of student life,” Father Okon said.

George Gregory is a freelance writer and parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.