Diocese echoes world chorus of love for Blessed John Paul II

By: By Tom Dermody

The applause was from hundreds, not the million-plus who had gathered in Rome for his beatification the previous weekend, but the affection for Blessed Pope John Paul II was just as deep and sincere among those attending a diocese-wide Mass of Thanksgiving in Peoria last Saturday.

“This is certainly a moment of grace in the universal church and in our diocese,” said Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, who was joined by about two dozen priests in celebrating the joy-filled liturgy at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

At the end of the Mass, Bishop Jenky led the assembly — representing the entire diocese — in acclaiming Blessed Pope John Paul II by turning to a large portrait of him in the cathedral sanctuary and applauding.

“Last Sunday’s beatification was a confirmation of what the faithful already knew,” said Father Christopher Layden, homilist for the special Mass. “The last smile he gave us was from a window at his house in the Vatican. Now he smiles upon us from a window in his Father’s house.”

Father Layden, who now serves on the diocese’s Marriage Tribunal, studied canon law in Rome and was present at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II’s funeral Mass in the spring of 2005. The Book of the Gospels used in the Mass was one blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1998 and purchased by the Layden family in memory of a cousin, Douglas Layden, who died in an automobile accident two years earlier.

There were other relics of Pope John Paul II present at the cathedral. The main chalice, Father Layden’s personal chalice, was used by the Holy Father in 2001 a few months prior to Father Layden’s ordination. Another chalice brought by Father Glenn Fontana was also used by the late pope.

Carried in the opening procession was a white skull cap called a zucchetto that was worn by Pope John Paul II in 1998 and given to then newly ordained Father Don Roszkowski outside the pope’s private chapel. (See related story below.)

Following the Mass, those relics joined others — including several photos of Bishop Jenky meeting with Blessed John Paul II — on a table for viewing and veneration by those attending the Mass.

Among those present for the Mass were about 30 members of the Missionaries of Charity, many of whom had just taken part in a retreat in Chicago. They brought with them a traveling display on the life of Blessed Mother Teresa that filled the cathedral’s Lady Chapel.

Msgr. Stanley Deptula, cathedral rector, said the display only added to the local celebration of the beatification.

“It seems so appropriate that these two great friends (Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa) should be honored at the cathedral on the same day,” said Msgr. Deptula in opening remarks.

In his homily, Father Layden said that, like many present, he was blessed to have been in the presence of Pope John Paul II. “In fact, he is one of the few people in my life who has actually rendered me speechless,” he told the assembly.

He recalled the late pope’s many visits to the U.S., including to farms in Iowa and his 1979 trip to Chicago “where the skyline skyscrapers became like cathedral spires in the backdrop of the papal Mass in Grant Park.”

“It is therefore of no wonder why so many of us felt so close to the 263rd Successor of Peter,” said Father Layden, saying he built bridges “between Rome and the world.”

With a gentle voice, Pope John Paul II “toppled regimes and changed hearts with the message that the meaning and purpose of human life is fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ,” said Father Layden.

Recalling the day of his funeral, Father Layden said that “as Vicar of Christ his work on earth was complete. But now as blessed his work in heaven begins.”


A promise kept to his mother led to papal rewards for Metamora pastor

When Pope John Paul II visited Chicago in 1979, Father Don Roszkowski, then 9, came down with tonsillitis at his family’s suburban home. After celebrating a “pretend” Mass, young Don made a promise to his mother who stayed home with him.

“One day I’ll introduce you to the pope,” he told her.

That promise was kept. And in 1998, nine months after he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Father Roszkowski and his parents — John and Mary — found themselves inside the pope’s private chapel in the Vatican, thanks to a letter from Bishop John J. Myers.

Father Roszkowski had heard of a practice of John Paul’s where his master of ceremonies would exchange the Holy Father’s white cap for a similar one if provided. He came prepared, and when Pope John Paul II was introduced, the exchange was made. Father Roszkowski now treasures the relic from the pope who inspired and “changed me forever.” It was carried in procession during last Saturday’s diocesan Mass of Thanksgiving for John Paul’s beatification.

After introducing his parents to the pope that day in 1998, Father Roszkowski couldn’t resist. He leaned over to his mother and said “Told you so.”

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