WASHINGTON, DC (CNA/EWTN News) - Ahead of next year's World Youth Day in Krakow, the long-time secretary for Pope John Paul II explained how the saint inspired a generation even though many never saw him in person.
"The thing that was attractive, that attracted young people to John Paul II, was not even what he was saying to them, but who he really was," Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, told CNA through a translator.
For the youth, "it was enough for him to look at them, and they could feel his love toward them, and that's why they were so close to him."
"The Pope loved the youth, and he understood young people" who were searching for truth and beauty, the cardinal added, "and he was able to respond to their questions." That bond still exists to this day, as seen at World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, when Pope Francis announced that the next one would be held in Krakow, "the city of John Paul II."
"There was this great enthusiasm and joy of the young people who haven't even met John Paul II," Cardinal Dziwisz said. "They still see great authority in him."
The cardinal spoke with CNA at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 2, after consecrating the altar for the shrine's new Redeemer of Man Church.
At the end of the dedication of the altar, he extended an invitation "to all young people from the United States and Canada" to attend World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow.
"I take this opportunity for my visit on American soil to invite the young people from the United States and Canada to the 2016 World Youth Day to Poland and to Krakow, the city of John Paul II, the spiritual capital of divine mercy," he said.
Poland will open its doors to pilgrims, he said, asking them in return to share "the enthusiasm of your faith."
"We are very much looking forward to this mutual exchange of gifts," he said.
Also present at the dedication Mass were concelebrant Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, and Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus.
The church's altar, crafted by Italian sculptor Edoardo Ferrari, features the 12 apostles carved on its four sides. Seven relics of saints connected to Pope St. John Paul II and the evangelization of North America were deposited into the altar during the Mass.
In his homily for the dedication Mass, celebrant Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. explained how the altar is the "symbol of Christ" in every church and also the place where the "Risen Lord" becomes "present to us" in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
The altar's carvings of the 12 apostles represent the Church built upon the apostles, he explained. The apostles are facing outward, symbolizing their going out from the Body of Christ into the world.
In addition, the replica of St. Thomas the Apostle shows him touching the altar, the "tangible, visible, real, authentic sign of the Risen Christ," just as St. Thomas touched the wounds of the Risen Christ in order to believe in the Resurrection.
"Our proclamation of faith when we approach this altar and we approach the celebration of the Eucharist on this altar," Cardinal Wuerl said, must echo the words of St. Thomas in Scripture, "My Lord and my God."
The entire church is full of "catechesis for pilgrims," the shrine's executive director Patrick Kelly explained to CNA, from the altar to the mosaics around the walls.
"What stands out in the mosaics is a vision of salvation history," he explained, with one side showing the "history of sin" in the Old Testament and the other the "history of salvation." This "culminates in Christ the High Priest" above the altar.
Evangelization of families is also a particular focus of the shrine, he added, since "the family was so close to John Paul II."
In his remarks at the end of the Mass, Cardinal Dziwisz expounded upon the legacy of the Pope.
For St. John Paul II, "faith was the center of his life." His was an "ordinary holiness, lived and attained day after day in daily prayer and service," he explained.
"John Paul II was a mystic," he added, noting that the Pope "would stand every day before God to contemplate the grace of God."
During his pontificate, St. John Paul II preached "the logic of merciful love" and "called for building the civilization of love," which was an answer to the materialism of the day," the Cardinal said. His teaching on marriage and the family was expressed in his work Love and Responsibility as well as his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, "On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World."
His 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, "The Gospel of Life," was "a great Magna Carta of the Church's teaching on the dignity and sanctity of human life," Cardinal Dziwisz said.
"John Paul II defended life, defended the right to live for the unborn, those that are the most vulnerable, and who do not have a voice," he said.