Fr. Wojciech Jarzecki can still hear the church bells ringing throughout his hometown of Chrzanow, Poland the day Bishop Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope John Paul II.
“He was my bishop because I’m from the Diocese of Krakow. When he became a pope it was a pretty big deal,” said Fr. Jarzecki, who was only 6-years-old at the time.
He could have never anticipated that years later he would literally continue to be so close to the late pontiff and be able to share that sense of closeness with his Calgary Diocese and beyond.
Fr. Jarzecki has gifted Sacred Heart Parish in Strathmore with a rare first class relic of the modern-day saint. He served as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish for more than 10 years before being reassigned last year to St. Michael’s Parish in Bow Island, Alta.
“The major impact that he made in my life was to show that the faith is not just something you have in your room; That the faith can mold your life, can mold the life of society and the country. Faith is not a theoretical thing, but it’s a practical thing,” said Fr. Jarzecki.
And the Catholic faith doesn’t get much more practical than relics. Three years ago Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz gifted Fr. Jarzecki with two first class relics of St. John Paul II’s blood.
During a medical procedure the Pope’s blood was drawn and kept in vials for a potential blood transfusion. After the Pope died, Cardinal Dziwisz had the unused blood turned into first class relics. Fr. Jarzecki called up the Cardinal to ask for a relic, and after some papal procedures, his request was granted. He traveled to Poland to receive the relic and bring it home to Canada.
The relic looks like dried blood on a tiny piece of cloth encased in a pyx-like container with a glass top. Today, the relic is kept at the Sacred Heart Parish office and is brought out to venerate inside a reliquary on special occasions such as Oct. 22 – the feast day of St. John Paul II.
At this time the parish community meets in the Holy Cross Collegiate gymnasium, while they raise funds to renovate a former IGA building into their new church building. The long term plan is to build a St. John Paul II chapel that will permanently house one of two relics; the other would be placed in the church altar.
Sacred Heart parishioner Tomas Rochford is honoured that his parish houses John Paul the Great’s first class relic because he admires the late pontiff for authorizing the writing of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, deepening the Church’s teachings on sexuality with The Theology of the Body and upholding the dignity of the person amidst political corruption.
“I find inspiring his ability to stand against the two great forms of tyranny in the last century – the fascism and nazism of Germany, but also communism, both of which affected Poland, and to come out of that situation not bitter, but reminding us that the answers to the moral, political, social problems are not to be found in a better, more powerful state, but in Christ ultimately,” said Rochford, the high school religion teacher at Holy Cross Collegiate in Strathmore
“That’s such an important witness even today when different forms of totalitarianism, even democratic totalitarianism, which is not as obvious as being taken to a gulag, can take authentic freedom away. I think John Paul II in his writings and the witness of his life is definitely someone we can turn to in this day and age.”
Fr. Jarzecki hopes the relics will make tangible the life of St. John Paul II and that the lessons taken from history provide important guidance for how to live (or not to live) today.
He remembers it wasn’t until he was 17-years-old in 1989 when Poland began to regain its freedom from communism. He remembers how the Communist Government put his father under house arrest because he was part of the Solidarity Movement in Poland opposing communism.
“When (Pope John Paul II) was speaking to Polish people during the Communist (rule) he didn’t talk about taking up arms, what he was basically saying is you are children of God and no one can take that away from you. God gives you freedom, this is not a government gift,” said Fr. Jarzecki.
“He showed how our faith can be so powerful if we follow it. Nobody believed communism could come to an end and it collapsed because of the Catholic faith.”
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers