With Blessed John Paul II's canonization taking place April 27, Father Czeslaw M. Krysa has commemorated the late pope's last visit to Buffalo by designating a room in the rectory of St. Casimir Church as the Papal Prayer Room.
During Aug. 17-18, 1976, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla came to Philadelphia, accompanied by 18 bishops and cardinals from Poland to participate in the 41st Eucharistic Congress. Following the congress, they toured Polish-American parishes through the States. Cardinal Wojtyla celebrated Mass twice at St. Casimir's, and spent the night in the rectory.
Father Krysa can remember the exact spot where the cardinal stood in the hallway of the rectory. That's where a walking tour of Blessed John Paul's life begins.
By standing in those footprints one will see a photo of Cardinal Wojtyla with Father Miecislaus Curzydlo, SAC, chaplain of the Buffalo VA Medical Center and concentration camp survivor, hanging above the staircase.
Photos of Blessed John Paul II line the walls leading up the stairs to a room that has been designated the Papal Post-It Prayer Room.
Inside the sparsely decorated room, a painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa rests on a wall behind an altar in between a bust of the pope and the Golden Rose, a papal gift given to famous women in the world. John Paul gave one to Our Lady of Czestochowa.
Polish and English editions of the biography of Blessed John Paul II written by George Weigel titled "Witness to Hope" sit in a curio cabinet, along with a commemorative plate given to John Paul that he in turn gave to St. Casimir's.
The furniture and drapes that adorned the room when John Paul visited have remained in place.
The centerpiece of the room is a nearly life-size photo of Cardinal Wojtyla, taken in Krakow by Father Krysa during the St. Stanislaus Procession in May 1977.
What's fascinating is, from anywhere in the room, John Paul seems to be looking right at the viewer with a hand raised to offer a blessing.
Visitors can write a prayer on a Post-It Note and stick in on the wall next to the photo. The first to do so was Bishop Richard J. Malone during a March visit.
Scattered throughout the room and into the hallway are leaflets containing the pontiff's thoughts on vocations, youth, happiness and authentic love.
"The idea is both, introducing and getting to know him," Father Krysa said. "We feel that since he came here to us, we have a privilege and a responsibility to introduce him to others. Coming here is a way of introduction, and then we have these little sheets all around, these little handbills with his sayings on various topics."
Father Krysa read all 14 of John Paul's encyclicals while on retreat. He remembers it as a laborious task, but often something memorable would stand out to him, something he wanted to share with others. The pope's thoughts on forgiveness rest next to photos of his 1981 attempted assassination.
"People can take these flyers home and get to know him a bit," Father Krysa said.
The bedroom where John Paul slept for two nights remains roped off.
In the hallway, photos from his childhood in Wadowice, Poland, taken from magazines, hang on one wall. Visitors can see him with his classmates, his parents, at his First Communion, and as an altar server.
Photos of his death appear on the facing wall. Throngs of people hold signs that read "Santo Sobito" demanding he be made a saint immediately.
"We wanted to make this low budget, so these aren't fancy frames or anything like that; it's just real simple," Father Krysa said.
When leaving, visitors may take a rosary with them. John Paul had a custom of handing out prayer beads to people he met.
Father Krysa expects the memorial to grow, possibly to include a library, but he doesn't want it to grow too much. Its purpose is to be a place of prayer, and should remain uncluttered. A recording of John Paul reciting the rosary in Polish will be played to assist those in prayer. Father Krysa is also looking into playing news footage of the visit.
The room will be open the third Sunday of the month after Mass, and to groups who request it.
Although it officially opens on canonization day, April 27, a few people have previewed it.
"(They) said they feel a certain presence here," Father Krysa said. "They say that without (my) asking, 'What did you feel like' or anything like that. Partially, I think because the room is simple. I just want to get a couple green plants. There is always green in Polish homes."
Cardinal Wojtyla also visited Buffalo during a 1969 tour of Polish-American communities.
To schedule a visit to the Papal Prayer Room call 716-824-9589.