JPII’s cassock: Handle with care!

The cassock of St Pope John Paul II, a second-class relic, was carried by Fr Greg on board his flight from Poland to Sydney in February. Photo: Supplied

Fr Greg Skulski SDS arrived at Sydney airport from Poland on 13 February holding on tightly to his hand luggage.

In it was the most precious cargo he had ever carried: the cassock of St Pope John Paul II.

“I didn’t want to risk losing it in my main luggage, otherwise I may not be here speaking to you,” he laughed.

The second-class relic is the latest addition to the shrine dedicated to John Paul II in East Gosford and is on display for one year.

It’s one of the most exciting additions since the shrine opened on 22 October 2022 with the blessing of first-class relics of the blood and hair of the sainted pope.

It’s the first time the cassock has left the Salvatorian mother house in Rome for 19 years after it was gifted to John Paul II’s friend and fellow polish priest, Fr Tadeusz Styczeń SDS, following his death.

Fr Greg travelled from Gosford to his homeland to represent Australia at his religious order’s Provincial Chapter, and his general superior certainly left him with more than a general update.

“He had packed the cassock very nicely in a cover, and so it came down under.”

The cassock joins the second-class relics of John Paul II’s stole gifted by his secretary, Cardinal Dziwisz, as well as a ciborium from which the pope distributed communion from during his 1986 pilgrimage to Australia.

“We have a big number of young Catholics and families in the parish, and John Paul II being the patron saint of young Catholics and families is certainly a modern example of someone that responded to the needs of that demographic,” Fr Greg said.

John Paul II’s stole, a second-class relic.  Photo: Supplied
John Paul II’s stole, a second-class relic. Photo: Supplied

“His teachings on theology of the body, family, sexuality, and ethics are alive around the world. I wanted him to be here to offer new opportunities not only for our parish, but also the wider community in NSW and Australia.”

Shrines are few and far between in the Australian Catholic landscape, though he hopes the new addition will encourage more visitors to Gosford to pay homage to the saint.

“For many years Catholicism on the central coast was forgotten, but the community down here gives life to this shrine and church and is a unique place of worship,” Fr Greg said.

The Polish priest has his own personal connection to John Paul II; the Polish claim him as “our pope.”

“It was halfway through my novitiate that he passed away. My fellow novitiates and I were preparing to go to sleep before someone came in shouting that John Paul II had died,” he said.

“We all gathered to watch the news and then went to the chapel to pray together for him.

“After my ordination I went to Rome for the first time and at his tomb I became quite emotional as I prayed.

“I said, ‘I haven’t met you personally, but I am here now,’ and offered all my intentions for my family, and my future in the priesthood.”

The cassock will be on display for public visits every Friday between 12:30-1:30pm, or by appointment, for one year at the shrine.

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