WILMINGTON – A busy and grace-filled week at St. Hedwig Church included a celebration of God’s mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday and a the opportunity to host a first-class relic of St. John Paul II for two days later in the week.
Hundreds of people gathered on April 12 for Divine Mercy Sunday, which included Mass and a procession around the Hedgeville neighborhood where the parish is located.
Father Anthony Giamello, the chaplain at St. Mark’s High School, celebrated the Divine Mercy Mass on April 12. During his homily, he told the congregation that “God is mercy, and this mercy was a free gift given to us. We in turn are called to be his agents and ambassadors of mercy.”
St. John Paul II designated the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday in 2000. The devotion is based on visions and visitations a Polish nun, Faustina Kowalska, received from Jesus during the 1930s, and its popularity has grown significantly. Father Andrew Molewski, pastor of St. Hedwig’s for 17 years, said this year was one of the best the parish has ever had. He estimated that 600 people attended.
“It was a beautiful celebration,” Father Molewski said. “It is basically growing every year. I am wondering if I can fit all of them in my church.”
The day began with confession early in the afternoon, followed by the procession, Mass and a dinner. Father Molewski said the need for the devotion is growing.
“People need to pray,” he said.
The church will begin a year of mercy this December, he noted, as designated by Pope Francis.
Mercy is what makes God perfect and all-powerful, Pope Francis said in his document officially proclaiming the 2015-2016 extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy.
“If God limited himself to only justice, he would cease to be God, and would instead be like human beings who ask merely that the law be respected,” the pope wrote in “Misericordiae Vultus,” “The Face of Mercy”), which is the “bull of indiction” calling a Holy Year to begin Dec. 8.
On the Wednesday and Thursday after Divine Mercy Sunday, St. Hedwig’s hosted a first-class relic of St. John Paul II, a vial of the late pope’s blood.
Each of the nights included a holy hour, Mass and veneration of the relic. Father Molewski said the church was expecting visitors from several surrounding states.
“I am so proud that it will be here in St. Hedwig Church,” he said.
St. Hedwig’s was about three-quarters full the first night the relic was in Wilmington, a mix of young and old, sick and well.
Before veneration, Sister Marie Grace of the Sisters of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who are the stewards of the relic in the United States, spoke about how the vial of blood was preserved from the weeks before John Paul II’s death in April 2005.
Blood that was drawn for tests, but never used, was kept, and one vial was divided into several others, one of which is the official pilgrimage vial that was in Wilmington. The Diocese of Wilmington is just one of three stops in the United States for the latest tour, with the others being Portland, Ore., and New York.
“I know his relic often brings back memories of our personal experiences and encounters with him because so many of us were able to hear his words or to meet him in person or be present when he was addressing us,” she said. “He had such a love for everybody, for humanity, all of those who most needed the love of the Lord in their lives.”
Through a local connection to the Sisters of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Mary Beth Payne, a St. Matthew’s parishioner who was one of the organizers of the visit, began talking with the sisters, who said they could arrange for the relic to come.
“We said, ‘So how did we get it here?’” Payne said. “And she said, ‘Well, you asked.’”
Payne was able to venerate the relic before the Mass and was deeply moved. “I cried when I got to venerate the relic because it’s him coming here. It was being able to be with him and I’ve never been with him before. I’ve never been to see him.”
Another worshiper was Father Leonard Klein’s wife, Christa, who was with their daughter, Renate. Christa Klein said being in the presence of the late pope was powerful.
“I didn’t expect to be as touched as I was. This was his last blood,” she said. “We’ve been to Lourdes. We know the graces we have are given, and I don’t have any expectations. I’m just ready to see whatever God gives.”
Father Klein concelebrated the Mass with Father Molewski.
Those who venerated the relic were able to touch and kiss the vial. Sister Grace Marie and another woman religious from her congregation, Sister Christine, invited them to bring holy cards that were distributed at St. Hedwig’s or any other religious item they brought from home to the altar, and those items were placed in contact with the vial, making them third-class relics.
The relic and the sisters stayed in Elsmere at the home of Payne’s parents, George and Bernadette Tressler. It was very exciting to tell her parents that they would be the hosts.
“We’ve prayed to John Paul for years,” Payne said.
On Thursday, the second day of the visit, the sisters had a busy day. They took the relic to St. John the Beloved School in the morning. At lunchtime, it was at Emmanuel Dining Room, followed by a stop at St. Anthony of Padua Parish. Then it was back to St. Hedwig. The sisters were scheduled to leave Wilmington with the relic on Friday.