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Cardinal Sean O’Malley presents relic of St. John Paul II at Salem shrine

A woman kissed a reliquary of St. John Paul II after Cardinal Sean O’Malley dedicated St. John Paul II Divine Mercy Shrine in Salem on Sunday.
A woman kissed a reliquary of St. John Paul II after Cardinal Sean O’Malley dedicated St. John Paul II Divine Mercy Shrine in Salem on Sunday. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

SALEM -- Excited parishioners filled the pews of St. John Paul II Shrine of Divine Mercy Sunday afternoon, chatting in English and Polish, as they waited for Cardinal Seán O’Malley to present a relic of the late pope. “I am so honored to dedicate this relic of a man I met many times and one who truly embodied Christ’s message of divine mercy,” O’Malley told the congregation.

During the Mass, O’Malley and Bishop Mark O’Connell, an auxiliary bishop of Boston, sprinkled the relic —- a few drops of John Paul’s blood encased in an ornate golden cross — with holy water and anointed it with oil.

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For many of those in the pews, having a relic of the pope in their parish is not only a powerful spiritual symbol, but a point of national pride. Many of the parishioners are Polish and they have not forgotten their roots.

The altar was decorated with flowers and cloths in white and red, the national colors of Poland, and some readings were in Polish.

“It’s just incredible,” said Karol Wabno, of Salem. “It’s really inspiring to know someone from our community was able to have such an impact on the world stage.”

John Paul II was born as Karol Józef Wojtya in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920. He joined the seminary in 1941 and rose through the ranks of the Catholic Church, eventually becoming pope in 1978— the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and the first from Poland, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A man held a set of rosary beads against a reliquary of St. John Paul II.
A man held a set of rosary beads against a reliquary of St. John Paul II. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

He was known as the “first globally orientated pope,” as he visited 129 countries during his papacy in an attempt to advocate Catholic values and push for nonviolent political activism, according to the Vatican’s records.

He was canonized a saint on April 27, 2014.

Some in the community, such as Alice Zujewski, of Salem, hoped that having the relic would inspire the congregation.

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“[He] had such a connection with divine mercy, and now that he’s really here, I can just feel something different in the air,” said Zujewski.

The shrine took the place of St. John the Baptist Church, which for years served a local Polish community, and two other churches, which were all merged. The John Paul relic will reside permanently in the shrine’s upper church. One other relic is on display in the shrine, in its lower church, of St. Faustina Kowalska, another Polish saint.

The Rev. Robert Bedzinski, the shrine’s rector, said receiving the relic has been a “blessing,” and he hopes it will attract people to come in for a quiet moment of reflection. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a local or a tourist, we’re hoping that the shrine becomes an oasis of peace in the busy lives we all live,” said Bedzinski.

Children played before the start of Mass.
Children played before the start of Mass. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Andrew Grant can be reached at andrew.grant@globe.com