Polish cardinal consecrates altar at St. John Paul II National Shrine

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WASHINGTON - Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, made his first visit to a national shrine in Washington dedicated to the pope he served as personal secretary for nearly 27 years.

The cardinal consecrated the main altar at the St. John Paul II National Shrine during an Oct. 2 Mass of dedication.

The work of Italian sculptor Edoardo Ferrari, the altar features sculptures of the apostles. The relics of seven saints were deposited into the altar, where they will remain permanently.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl was the principal celebrant and homilist of the Mass, and the concelebrant was Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson was in attendance along with the shrine's executive director, Patrick Kelly, and other Knights of Columbus officials. The shrine is a special initiative of the Knights.

Now-Cardinal Dziwisz was ordained to the priesthood in 1963 by Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow - the future pope and saint. The priest became the archbishop's private secretary in 1966 and was with him in Rome when he was elected pope in 1978. Then-Father Dziwisz accompanied the pope on his numerous trips abroad and physically supported Pope John Paul in the critical moments following an attempt on his life in 1981. He continued to serve him until the pontiff's death in 2005.

Designated as a national shrine by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2014, the shrine is primarily a place of prayer and pilgrimage.

Before it became a shrine, the building was home to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. The Knights of Columbus acquired it in 2011 and converted it into a shrine to keep with the original vision of the center.

Its permanent exhibit, "A Gift of Love: The Life of St. John Paul II," allows visitors to walk in the footsteps of the saint by exploring the major events of his life and themes of his papacy.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015