As we prepare for the feast of Saint John Paul II, we invite you to continue on this pilgrimage through our permanent exhibit, A Gift of Love: The Life of Saint John Paul II. We hope you will walk through each of the nine galleries with us, so that you can get a taste of the spiritual and informational journey that awaits you here at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine.
This week we will explore the second gallery: Light in Darkness. In this part of the exhibit, pilgrims learn more about John Paul II's birth, his childhood, and his vocation to the priesthood.
Born Karol Wojtyła on May 18, 1920, the great saint was born in Wadowice, Poland to a strong Catholic family. From an early age, Karol was well-formed in the faith, and this faith became a light for him during the darker times in his life.
It didn’t take long for this light to be confronted by great darkness. Karol was born close to the end of WWI, and he reached adulthood in Nazi-occupied Poland. Following the defeat of the Nazi’s, he lived in a Poland ruled by the totalitarian and atheistic Soviet Union. Karol also confronted dark times on a personal level. His mother passed away when he was very young, and he lost all of his family by age 20.
Wojtyła’s faith carried him through these dark times, along with the help of friends and mentors like lay catechist Jan Tyranowski. Through his relationships with God and others, he chose to answer the call to give his life to the Church through priesthood.
In this gallery, pilgrims can explore St. John Paul II’s family life, his involvement in cultural resistance movements, and his ministry. Listening stations play interviews from former classmates, friends, and young people he ministered to. Pilgrims also learn about his contribution to the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s.
This part of the exhibit invites pilgrims to experience the darkness in young John Paul II’s life, so that they can wonder together at the light that he became in all of our lives. It also invites reflection on themes like the importance of family, friendship, the dignity of the human person, and the universal call to holiness.
Finally, Gallery 2 calls pilgrims to reflect on the providential timing of St. John Paul II’s papacy. The Holy Spirit had been working in young Karol’s life from day one, forming him in relationships and, through suffering, teaching him how to handle the biggest questions of our time (for example: what is man?).
If we are all called to be saints, then isn’t it true that the Holy Spirit wants to work like this in all of our lives? Does He not want us all to shine in the darkness, as St. John Paul II did? Ponder this as you continue on pilgrimage with us.
St. John Paul II, Pray for Us!