Saints' blood and bones inspire Catholic pilgrims in Poland

KRAKOW, Poland (AP) " Relics of saints aren't rare in Krakow, especially these days.

Embedded in a gray memorial stone, a story below the altar where Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Saturday in a shrine dedicated to St. John Paul II, is a glass bubble filled with blood drawn from the Polish pontiff shortly before his death in 2005.

The round, transparent vial of blood is just one of several relics of John Paul in this southern Polish city where he served as a cardinal before becoming the first-ever Polish pontiff in 1978.

Here are some of the more popular saints' relics currently or permanently in and around Krakow, which is hosting a Catholic youth event this week drawing hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.

JOHN PAUL II

In the Church of the Relics, the lower of two churches in the Sanctuary of St. John Paul II that lies on a hill overlooking some shopping centers, is the container of blood drawn from him during medical care in the final weeks of his life in Rome. His longtime aide, and now Krakow Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, asked doctors to give him a vial of the blood.

Other relics of the saint in the chapel include his pectoral cross, as well as a tunic he wore the day a gunman shot him, wounding him critically, on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.

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MARY MAGDALENE

Some relics now in Krakow are on loan, like those from a French church of Mary Magdalene, a cherished model of mercy for the current pontiff, who thinks the world now needs more of that quality.

The figure of this woman, which popular tradition holds was a prostitute, is climbing in esteem with Pope Francis, who sees her as a compassionate, enthusiastic evangelizer.

Dominican priests at a church in France where part of her tibia bone is kept accompanied her relics to St. Casimir church in Krakow earlier this month.

A recent Vatican decree has "upgraded" how the church remembers the woman whose life inspired a song in the hit musical "Jesus Christ Superstar." Mary Magdalene now is honored with the same level of liturgical feast day reserved for the apostles. Francis is particularly struck by how Mary Magdalene stood by Jesus when other disciples were deserting him, and was the first, on Easter morning according to Scripture, to whom Jesus appeared.

According to Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, there is no real basis in the Gospels to conclude she was a prostitute. He says that erroneous conclusion was made because her name is mentioned in the Gospel close on the heels of an unrelated reference to a "noted sinner" who bathed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.

Pilgrim Nounella Blanchedent from French Guadeloupe found the Mary Magdalene relics helped her to pray.

"You can focus better on the prayer. You can focus better on your thoughts. She brings you closer to God," the 27-year-old pilgrim said as a priest celebrated a Mass in French to a packed church.

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FAUSTINA KOWALSKA

Practically down the block from John Paul II's relics in Krakow are bones of a 20th-century Polish nun and mystic, FaustIna Kowalska.

A Polish farmer's daughter who became a nun, Kowalska wrote down in a diary visions she reported having of Jesus speaking to her about the need to spread the idea of Divine Mercy, along with her "conversations" with God.

In a chapel with her name at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, a small writing desk contains bones from the saint, who died in 1938 of tuberculosis, while another small relic is placed on a marble kneeler before the altar.

John Paul II made her a saint in 2000, and in 2002, during his last voyage to Poland, dedicated the light-filled Basilica of Divine Mercy, three years before his own death.

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Frances D'Emilio is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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