Dedication to St. John Paul II among the faithful at Our Lady Mother of the Church Polish Mission in Willow Springs is nothing new. When the late pope was canonized on April 27 last year, the church was crowded around the clock with worshippers, many of them Polish Highlanders, who came to march, pray and hold an all-night vigil with the Cistercians who operate the mission at 116 Hilton St. That was when the idea of creating a formal shrine to St. John Paul took hold. “Outside and inside our church all prayed silently and watched ceremonies from Rome to mark the occasion,” Cistercian Father Michal Blicharski said in an email interview. “It was a very moving experience. Seeing such a deep and profound dedication to our saint, and following many requests of our own parishioners as well as my own desire to have this place dedicated to the Polish saint, in May of 2014 I humbly asked the cardinal to consider and permit our place as the diocesan shrine of St. John Paul II.” Cardinal George granted a decree creating the shrine on Aug. 19, and the establishment was celebrated with events that took place from Oct. 19-Oct. 22, the liturgical feast of St. John Paul II. The celebrations drew many worshippers, including a contingent from the St. John Paul II Foundation Chicago Chapter, which was founded by the saint in 1982, and Cardinal George, who came on Oct. 21 to pray the rosary with ethnic youth groups, underlining the importance of this particular Marian prayer as St. John Paul II always did. On the actual feast day, Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki, a former auxiliary bishop of Chicago, dedicated the shrine by reading the decree. The mission has had a strong connection to St. John Paul II since it was founded in 2003, Blicharski said. On the occasion of its dedication, the mission received a white cassock worn by the Polish pope. That cassock is displayed inside the church. It also received a first-class relic of the saint immediately after he was canonized last spring. Outside the church, on the grounds of the shrine, there is a 20-foot statue of St. John Paul II. That statue has become a focal point both for individual prayer and community celebrations. A smaller replica of the statue is located inside the church. The church also includes relics of the holy cross and the Polish saints Faustina Kowalska and Maximilian Kolbe. Thursday evening Masses and devotions to St. John Paul II began after he died in 2005, praying first for his beatification and canonization and now for his intercession. The devotion for many of the faithful is personal, Blicharski said. “Many visitors still remember the saint as the archbishop of Krakow,” he said. “Many were confirmed by St. John Paul II during his ministry as their bishop when they were growing up in Poland. As memories of him are still fresh in their mind, the devotion to him has continued to be deep.” He hopes the shrine will inspire that devotion going forward. “Our desire is to foster and nourish the saint’s spiritual and intellectual legacy for generations to come,” he said. “I hope our shrine will be an example to remind all people that we are privileged to carry in our hearts and minds the lasting remembrance of Pope John Paul II and to help us to gain spiritually from the gift of having shared this special time in history with this exceptional person. St. John Paul II once said ‘I plead with you — never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.’ We are hoping that this shrine will help all of us to not give up hope and stay persistent and unafraid.” Blicharski said the mission is trying to spread the word about its presence. So far, most pilgrims are from Polish communities in the archdiocese, as all services are in Polish. There are two or three Masses each day, and weekly or monthly devotions to the Blessed Mother, the Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Blicharski said the mission plans to begin offering some services in English soon, and he expects to welcome more Spanishspeaking worshippers as the mission develops a collaboration with the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines.