About the Shrine


The St. John Paul II National Shrine is first and foremost a place of the worship of the God who became man in Jesus Christ. Yet as Saint John Paul II often repeated, in revealing God, Jesus Christ also reveals man to himself (cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 22). The Shrine is thus not only a place where men and women can receive the Christian sacraments, but also find pastoral care and participate in educational and cultural opportunities that help them to grow in their humanity.

The Shrine is a place of pilgrimage housing two first-class relics of Saint John Paul II. Here, through liturgy and prayer, art, and cultural and religious formation, visitors can enter into its patron’s deep love for God and for man.

From its conception, the Shrine was intended as a response to Saint John Paul II’s, Pope Benedict XVI’s and Pope Francis’ call for a “new evangelization.” It is meant to be a place of the genuine encounter with God that leads to a renewal of individuals, families, societies and cultures – a place where the God who “entered history” (John Paul II, Homily, Dec. 24, 1999) heals and renews every dimension of human life.

The Shrine was designated a national shrine on March 14, 2014 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

What is pilgrimage?

A pilgrimage is a Christian devotional practice with an ancient tradition and history. The faithful go on pilgrimage by journeying to shrines and sacred places to pray there and draw closer to God. Places of pilgrimage are often marked by God’s special intervention (such as the Holy Land) or have a particular importance in the religious history of a people. Shrines dedicated to the veneration of Mary, the Mother or God or to a particular saint are common places of pilgrimage.

Saint John Paul II explained, ““Pilgrimages, a sign of the condition of the disciples of Christ in this world, have always held an important place in the life of Christians. In the course of history, Christians have always walked to celebrate their faith in places that indicate a memory of the Lord or in sites representing important moments in the history of the Church. They have come to shrines honoring the Mother of God and to those that keep the example of the saints alive. Their pilgrimage was a process of conversion, a yearning for intimacy with God and a trusting plea for their material needs. For the Church, pilgrimages, in all their multiple aspects, have always been a gift of grace” (Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee, 2).

What is a relic?

From the deaths of the first martyrs, when the faithful carefully gathered and honored their remains, Christians have venerated relics. The churches where these relics were kept quickly became places of pilgrimage, where Christians went to strengthen their faith and pray for particular intentions, aware that “communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom … issues all grace, and the life of the People of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 957).

Catholics do not worship relics; rather they venerate the bodily remains or the clothing of a saint as an expression of reverence for their holiness of life. This grateful reverence is above all directed at God, who can so transform a human life that becomes, body and soul, a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).

At the St. John Paul II National Shrine, pilgrims may venerate two relics of Saint John Paul II.

A first-class relic of Saint John Paul II’s blood is contained in a glass ampoule at the center of an ornate reliquary. This relic was given as a gift to Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson by His Eminence Stanisław Cardinal Dziwisz, Archbishop of Kraków and personal secretary to John Paul II. A second relic, housed at this shrine for veneration by pilgrims, is a piece of the blood-stained cassock worn by Saint John Paul II on the day of the assassination attempt on his life in St. Peter’s Square.

Feast Day of St. John Paul II

In the Church’s universal calendar, the memorial of Saint John Paul II is celebrated on October 22, the date of the inauguration of his pontificate in 1978. The feast day recalls the momentous week that marked the beginning of his pontificate. On October 16, 1978, the College of Cardinals elected Cardinal Karol Wojtyła of Poland as the 264th successor to St. Peter. On October 22, in his homily at the solemn Mass inaugurating his pontificate, Pope John Paul II uttered the words that became emblematic of his pontificate: “Be not afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!”

Novena prayer to St. John Paul II

Novenas are a traditional Catholic devotion of public or private prayers repeated for nine successive days for a particular intention. From the Latin word novem, meaning ‘nine,” praying a novena helps the faithful to persevere in prayer, according to the Lord’s instruction to pray insistently and not lose heart (cf. Luke 18:1). The following novena can be prayed in preparation for the feast day of Saint John Paul II: Novena prayer to St. John Paul II

Permanent exhibit overview

A Gift of Love: The Life of St. John Paul II, a major exhibit covering some 16,000 square feet, allows pilgrims to immerse themselves in the life and teaching of this pope and saint. The exhibit leads the pilgrim on a spiritual itinerary through Karol Wojtyła’s early years and the maturing of his vocation as a priest and bishop amidst some of the darkest moments of the twentieth century.

Personal artifacts, texts, images and interactive displays combine to illustrate the Pope’s historic election, his passion for “Christ, the Redeemer of Man” and his courageous defense of the dignity of the human person. Through the dramatic events of John Paul II’s 25-year pontificate, and finally through the witness he bore in his final illness and death, the visitor can glimpse the fruitfulness of a life given over in service – the fruitfulness of a human being who, like his Lord, sought to love “to the end” (John 13:1).

The Knights of Columbus and the St. John Paul II National Shrine

The Shrine is a major pastoral initiative of the Knights of Columbus, a lay Catholic fraternal organization with approximately two million members around the world. Faithful to the mission and legacy of the John Paul II Cultural Center, which previously occupied the premises, the Knights began the renovations required to convert the building into its present form: a place of worship seamlessly integrated with a major permanent exhibition and opportunities for cultural and religious formation.

It is the Knights’ hope that this initiative will serve the life of the Church in the Americas and will thus bear abundant fruit for the universal Church and for the world.