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Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2014 / 04:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Hundreds of pilgrims and faithful from all states of life flocked to Washington, D.C.'s St. John Paul II Shrine on Wednesday to celebrate the late Pope and recently canonized saint’s first universal feast day.

“To be able to celebrate in the presence of a saint on their first feast day, I think is just a point of great grace for the local Church and all the pilgrims that come here,” said Fr. Jonathan Kalisch, O.P, chaplain of the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, to CNA Oct. 22.

This presence, he said, was apparent in the large and diverse crowd who came to participate in a feast day Mass at the shrine.

At the Mass, there were “over 550 young people, the elderly, there were Polish pilgrims, the consecrated, the sisters, there were male religious,” Fr. Kalisch explained. “ When I was celebrating the Mass, I thought, ‘he’s brought them here.’”

Fr. Kalisch gave the homily at the first celebration of the Feast of Saint Pope John Paul II at the saint’s shrine in Washington, D.C. A relic of St. John Paul II's blood, as well as a bloodstained piece of his cassock from the 1981 attempt on his life are present for veneration at the shrine.

St. John Paul II served as Pope for over 26 years, from 1978 until his death in 2005. He was canonized earlier this year, on April 27; the Oct. 22 observance of his feast is the anniversary of his papal inauguration.

The Mass was preceded by a recitation of the rosary, and followed by a screening of a documentary on the saint’s visits to North America, and the recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Veronica McGraw, a high school student from Alexandria, Va., is learning about the newly canonized saint in her high school classes, and said she has come to better understand his teachings and example.  

“I really love his love for the human person and the dignity he has for everybody: how every person is made in the image of God and has immeasurable worth,” she said.

Joey Ledonio, another high school student, said he was impressed by the international effect of  St. John Paul II’s papacy through his travels and meetings with world leaders. Also striking, Ledonio said, were the sheer number of  “all of the people he canonized” during his papacy.

Brendan Peifer, also a teen from Virginia, said that what stood out to him about the late Pope’s service and teaching is “his focus on love.”

As a young person, though, Peifer said he was also grateful for the saint’s focus on reaching out to youth: “He was really concerned with the future of the Church and the future of the world.”

Fr. Kalisch highlighted the Pope’s witness to “the vocation to sacrificial love” in his homily, pointing to the tragedies John Paul II suffered in his early life with the loss of his family, as well as his ministry to young people and families and work as bishop and later Pope in standing for truth and freedom.

The chaplain also spoke later of the Pope’s love, and its demonstration in those who were present to celebrate his first feast day at the shrine.

“To see this outpouring of devotion: I was just personally moved to see everybody there and to celebrate today,” he said. “No doubt he wanted them there.”

Above all, though, recognizing the late Pope for his holiness is what was at the core of the feast day celebrations, Fr. Kalisch said.

“It’s just a great joy to be able to call him a saint.”

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Vatican City, Oct 22, 2014 / 01:57 pm (CNA).- The cardinal heading the Church’s council for Christian Unity has expressed his hope that Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Turkey will help strengthen existing Catholic-Orthodox relations.

“The ecumenical vision of the patriarch is very helpful for me because we have some tendencies in the dialogue to avoid the theological questions and to handle other questions,” Cardinal Kurt Koch told CNA Oct. 22.

“His holiness, the patriarch, helped me to sustain that we have (the need) for theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, (and) in this sense I think this visit can deepen our relationships,” he observed.

Cardinal Koch, who serves as the current president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, made his comments the day after the Vatican’s release of Pope Francis’ official itinerary for the trip.

The trip will take place Nov. 28-30, and falls just days after Pope Francis’ Nov. 25 address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

It will take place largely in response to an invitation sent to Pope Francis by Patriarch Bartolomew I of Constantinople, asking him to participate in the celebration of the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Orthodox world.

While relations between Catholic and Orthodox Churches are already on good terms, the cardinal explained that the Pope’s trip will be an opportunity to take these relations further through dialogue on theological points of diversion.

“It’s a very difficult dialogue because now we are discussing the theme of primacy within the Church and above all the primacy of the bishop of Rome,” Cardinal Koch observed, noting that due to historical divisions, the process of unity is “a very big challenge.”

He also emphasized the importance of dialoging with Muslims, saying that although continuous Catholic-Orthodox dialogue is needed, Islam is an especially crucial topic of discussion for the Church today.

For constructive dialogue to occur, the cardinal explained that moderate Muslims must make a clear distinction between themselves and extremist groups in order to help Christians and other persecuted minorities in today’s contentious times.

“I think it’s very, very important not to damage the dialogue with Muslims, but they must confess where they stand, and above all I think it’s very important to have the common message that violence is not the sister of religion.”

“The sister of religion is holy peace,” he said, noting that this is a message clearly and strongly promoted by Benedict XVI during his pontificate, which continues with Pope Francis.

“We have the experience of what St. John Paul II mentioned, the ecumenism of martyrdom, because all of the churches, the Orthodox Churches, the Evangelical Churches, the Catholic Churches in the Middle East have martyrs,” Cardinal Koch explained.

He drew attention to how the Church often refers to the blood of the martyrs as the seed which gives life to new Christians, and voiced his hope that the blood of the many modern day martyrs will be “the seed of the new unity between Christians.”

Prior to the announcement of his visit to Turkey, Pope Francis and Bartholomew I had already met numerous times. They issued a joint declaration during the Pope’s voyage to the Holy Land in May, and worked together in organizing an Invocation for Peace in the Middle East held at the Vatican Gardens June 8.

Bartholomew I has also been committed to organizing a pan-Orthodox synod, set to take place in 2016, in an attempt to transcend divisions between Orthodox Churches and to move towards an internal unity in favor of dialogue with Rome.

The close relation between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch have sparked rumors that they are collaborating on the Pope’s anticipated encyclical on ecology, making it a joint encyclical letter on the topic.
 

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