For parishioners at St. James Catholic Church in Gadsden, last year’s Novena to St. John Paul II was a special time as the church gathered to place a relic from the former pope at the church.
This year’s Novena will mark placement of that relic in a specially built altar on the east side the sanctuary.
The relic — a drop of blood from St. John Paul II — is the only first-class relic or physical item from him in Alabama, according to Father Jose Chacko.
Parishioners will gather at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday for a procession, Janet Semrick said. The relic will be displayed at the front of the church, and people may make offerings of flowers, food and fruit, which will later be donated to the poor, she said.
The procession and mass will be followed by a big dinner, Semrick said.
St. John Paul II was elected pope in 1978. He was born Karol Wojtyla, in Poland. He died in 2005 and was canonized in April 2014.
The events that led to a drop of his blood coming to St. James began when Jim Prucnal and family visited Poland for a vacation and some genealogical research. While his family was in Stobierna, Poland, Prucnal said, they found the church his grandmother had attended before coming to America around 1903.
The parish priest gave them a tour of the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and they had a chance to view and venerate a relic of St. John Paul II that belonged to the church.
Prucnal described it as a powerful, thought-provoking and life-changing experience. The family went on to visit a number of sites with strong ties to the saint, and they discussed the possibility of requesting a relic for St. James.
After getting proper approvals, the Most Rev. Robert J. Baker, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham was contacted and he made a request for a relic from His Eminence Cardinal Stanislaus Dziwisz of Krakow, the former personal secretary to St. John Paul II as pope, who was associated with him for 40 years.
The request was approved and St. James was presented last year with the relic, contained in an ornate reliquary.
That reliquary will now be housed in the altar built for it inside the church, behind glass in a display that includes a crucifix, a photo of St. John Paul II, a depiction of Jesus Christ and framed letters, in English and Polish, from Dziwisz authenticating “the present particle of the Blood of Saint Pope John Paul II.”
Semrick said the other displayed items have been blessed by Dziwisz.
Prucnal said he believes learning about modern saints can emphasize the relevancy of the church in modern times.
So many saints — Peter, Paul, John and others — lived thousands of years ago, Prucnal said.
“St. John Paul II did things in modern times that I remember reading about,” he said. “He was known as the pope of mercy.”
After surviving a shooting by a hired assassin, the pope went to visit his attacker, and he forgave the man, Prucnal said. He took a stand against capital punishment, and he was accessible to people all over the world.
“He helped bring about the fall of communism. I know about these things because I lived through them,” Prucnal said.