FILIPINO Catholics need not spend for expensive airfare to visit the grave of the late Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica or his residence in Poland. They only need to drive a few kilometers from Manila and spend 10 pesos to pay him tribute.

Located inside the three-hectare site of the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Marilao, Bulacan is an imitation of John Paul’s residence in Wadowice, Poland. Alongside a chapel for St. Faustina Kowalska, proponent of the devotion to the Divine Mercy, and a replica of the Nazi cell of Polish patron saint of journalists, St. Maximilian Kolbe, is the miniature papal residence—the “Little Poland.”

“The place is primarily established so that people can get a glimpse of how John Paul II lived even without having to travel abroad,” shrine founder and former parish priest Fr. Vic Robles told the Varsitarian.

Since it was only during John Paul II’s papacy that the devotion to the Divine Mercy was canonically approved, Robles spearheaded the construction of Little Poland in appreciation of the late Pontiff. After visiting the original papal residence, Robles was inspired to build the exhibit.

“Aside from his deep attachment to the Divine Mercy, John Paul II’s death coincides with the feast of the devotion on April 2,” Robles said.

Since its completion last Nov. 30, Little Poland has been open for public viewing. The exhibit features an extensive collection of photographs of Karol Wojtyla’s life—from his childhood in Wadowice to his elevation to the papacy in 1978.

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“Since the parish is promoting devotion to the Divine Mercy, we took John Paul II as the best model for the people to imitate,” Robles said. “He is the best example of a true Divine Mercy devotee.”

Upon entering the miniature split-level structure, pilgrims will see photographs of the late Pontiff, some of which are Robles’ personal collection, displayed along the walls, and replicas of furnitures found in the original residence of the late Pope in Wadowice. An underground passageway, an imitation of the late Pontiff’s basement apartment when he entered a secret seminary run by the Archbishop of Kraków in 1942, was also built from natural rocks.

Reminiscing the saint-maker

The National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, through Little Poland, hopes to remedy the Filipino’s yearning for the late Pontiff. But aside from offering a closer-to-home appreciation of John Paul II, the Shrine also houses replicas of other international pilgrim sites.

Among the replica sites are: the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, the Grotto of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, the Holy Land in Israel, the Cave of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and the Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.

At the back of the church is the model of Calvary with life-sized Stations of the Cross. Other places of interest are the Rosary Hill, Tomb of the Unborn, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, the Our Lady of Fatima Wishing Well, a miniature Belen, and the Path of Healing.

As a consequence, Robles said visitors from nearby and distant provinces and foreigners visit the Shrine. The Divine Mercy also houses a retreat house, an adoration chapel, and an aviary for butterflies.

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But among the Shrine’s attractions, Little Poland appeals to pilgrims who were not given the chance to see John Paul II in person. After his 27-year pontificate, many Catholic faithful were not given the rare opportunity to meet the Pope who extended his presence outside the Vatican with his 245 foreign and Italian pastoral visits. Through the exhibit, pilgrims are able to experience how it feels to be inspired by the late Pontiff—even only with pictures showing his eminence.

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