Relic of St. John Paul II in Seelos Chapel

Relic of St. John Paul II in Seelos Chapel

On the afternoon of Thursday, October 26, a traveling relic of Pope St. John Paul II made a visit to Seelos Chapel. Donnelly President Monsignor Stuart Swetland opened the visit with a votive mass for John Paul II, and the afternoon included time for public veneration (Donnelly staff, students and the wider community were welcome to pray with the relic) and a talk on how a young Karol Wojtyla, who would later become John Paul II, resisted the Nazi occupation of his home country Poland through his involvement in underground theater activities.

Msgr. Swetland spoke about the theme of light and shadows in Wojtyla’s work. Executive Assistant Lindsey Weisher gave a brief overview of the Rhapsodic Theater Wojtyla participated in: a theater style which privileged the word itself over sets, props and costumes. The talk ended with a performance of one of Wojtyla’s own poems “Simon of Cyrene” by Donnelly staff.

What is a relic? 

A relic is an object connected to a saint (a Catholic whose life has been exemplary, and who is believed to be in heaven). A relic may be something they wore, something they’ve touched, and it can also be part of the saint’s body—bone, hair, or blood.

How did relics become a part of the Catholic tradition?

In the days of early Christianity, many Christians were martyred for their faith in places like the Coliseum. It was common at that time for liturgies to be celebrated on the tombs of the martyrs. Since as humans, we are both body and soul, we have a need for the tangible. The place where a saint’s body was buried was therefore precious, as one early text describes the death of a beloved early Christian, Polycarp: "We adore Christ, because He is the Son of God, but the martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the Lord. So we buried in a becoming place Polycarp's remains, which are more precious to us than the costliest diamonds, and which we esteem more highly than gold." (Acts of St. Polycarp, composed approx. 156 AD).

It became a part of Catholic practice to draw nearer to the bodies of saints through relics, which are only meant to be objects for devotion and cannot be bought or sold. Relics are also believed to be objects of healing for the spirit and sometimes also the body. In the Bible, one can see instances where drawing close to the bodies of holy people conveys healing—like the bones of Elisha in the Old Testament (2 Kings 13:20-21), and the tassel of Jesus’ cloak which a woman with a hemorrhage touches and receives healing (Mt. 9:20-22).

What is veneration?

Veneration means showing respect for things that are holy. St. Jerome puts it well when he says: "We do not worship relics, we do not adore them, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator. But we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are." (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907). Outward signs of veneration might include bowing toward the relic, making the sign of the cross, or kissing the relic. Those who pray with the relic do so to draw closer to God.