PARAÑAQUE City, May 8, 2014—An open-air exhibit held recently on the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (Baclaran Church) grounds looked back at the late Pope John Paul II’s official visit there
The rare photographs on display immortalize highlights of this brief, but important visit such as the one showing the pontiff gladly blessing Baclaran devotees from the balcony of the shrine’s office building, and another of him addressing the faithful inside the shrine.
Looming behind John Paul II, himself a devotee of the Blessed Virgin, was the much venerated Theotókos icon.
A plaque posted on the shrine’s façade commemorates this historic event. It mentions that then pope, now St. John Paul, said mass inside the church in honor of the “Women Religious of the Philippines” in February of 1981.
Part of the plaque’s message, which contains excerpts from John Paul II’s prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, reads, “Be ready to intercede with every form of help for each human heart and all the peoples… especially for those who have heavy ordeals in life due to suffering, poverty and every form of afflictions… Mother of Perpetual Help, accept this humble offering and place it in the Heart of Your Son.”
But contrary to common knowledge, this visit was not his first. It was only his first as pope.
According to an earlier CBCP News article, then Kraków Archbishop Karol Józef Cardinal Wojtyla, the would-be John Paul II, was in the country in February 1973 for a stopover.
This was roughly five years before he was elected to the papacy in 1978.
Swedish journalist Christer Nyblom, who had known Wojtyla as a Vatican reporter, shared that the cardinal ordered the first cabdriver he saw at the airport to take him to the nearest church.
The church happened to be the Redemptorist Shrine in Parañaque, where Cardinal Wojtyla presided over a mass in February 1973, Nyblom said.
The exhibit also paid homage to the “less familiar but equally great” St. John XXIII, who was head of the Roman Catholic Church from 1958 until his death in 1963.
With the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council he inaugurated, his pontificate marked the “opening up of the Church to the world”. (Raymond A. Sebastián)