Why is a Vial of Pope John Paul II’s Blood Coming to Boston this Weekend?

Pope John Paul II’s official portrait, from 1978.
Pope John Paul II’s official portrait, from 1978.
Vatican Handout/AP

A vial of Pope John Paul II’s blood will be on display at Holy Cross Cathedral in the South End this weekend. The relic is on loan from the John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C.

According to the Shrine, the blood is coming to Boston to kick off a nationwide tour:

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Featuring a vial of St. John Paul II’s blood, the relic tour allows the faithful to continue to walk with the pope who traveled extensively to be with them.

During his pontificate, the pope traveled to over 120 nations. “The Pope cannot remain a prisoner of the Vatican,” he once said. “I want to go to everybody...from the nomads of the steppes to the monks and nuns in their convents...I want to cross the threshold of every home.”

For the uninitiated, relics are a big deal in Catholicism. According to the Catholic Education Resource Center, there are three classes of relics. First class relics are from the actual body of a saint. Like this vial of John Paul II’s blood. Then there are second class relics, which are objects used by a saint. Picture a frock or scepter. Third class relics were touched by a saint. The Shroud of Turin is probably the most famous third class relic, even if its authenticity is in doubt.

And Catholics don’t worship relics. They venerate them, according to the resource center:

Here we need to pause for a moment. Perhaps in our technological age, the whole idea of relics may seem strange. Remember, all of us treasure things that have belonged to someone we love—a piece of clothing, another personal item, a lock of hair. Those “relics” remind us of the love we share with that person while he was still living and even after death. Our hearts are torn when we think about disposing of the very personal things of a deceased loved one. Even from an historical sense, at Ford’s Theater Museum for instance, we can see things that belonged to President Lincoln, including the blood-stained pillow on which he died. More importantly, we treasure the relics of saints, the holy instruments of God.

After Boston, the pope blood will make appearances in New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.