The Catholic Commentator  

It was as if an old friend had come home for the crowds of people who came to venerate a first-class relic of St. John Paul II that toured the Diocese of Baton Rouge on Nov. 2-4. People kissed, touched a rosary or bowed their head in a moment of silence as they approached the relic and presented prayers of thanksgiving, petitions or relived fond memories of seeing the pope in person.  

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At Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge, people expressed various signs of reverence when venerating the first-class relic of St. John Paul II when it came to the Diocese of Baton Rouge. The relic was displayed at Christ the King Church and Student Center at LSU, Our Lady of Mercy Church and Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant.  Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator  


A vial of the saint’s blood was displayed at Christ the King Church and Student Center at LSU, Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge and Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant.  

At the veneration at Our Lady of Mercy, Margie Melancon, of Gonzales, said she came to give thanks for all God’s blessings because she is cancer free after facing the disease twice.  

She said the Lord picked St. John Paul II to be a leader in the church to play a critical role in history, including being a key figure in ushering in major changes in the church through Vatican II and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. She said the Blessed Mother guided his steps.  

Melancon saw the Pope in 1987 when he visited New Orleans. 

“Everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit,” said Melancon. “The rain came down and nobody got sick.”  

A past member of the Rosary Makers group at Our Lady of Mercy, Melancon, who still makes the devotional tools, was drawn to St. John II because of his love for the devotion.  

Praying the rosary helped Melancon through many difficult times, especially when her cancer returned.  

“I said, ‘This disease is not going to kill me, it’s going to bring my family back to Jesus and the rosary.’ And it did,” said Melancon. She said she had the rosaries she prayed with blessed.  

When asked if she had prayed many times with those beads, Melancon said, “You talk about …”  

Al St. Pierre said his visit with the relic reminded him of the time he and his sister, now deceased, got a close up view of the pope when he rode in the popemobile around a New Orleans cemetery during his visit to the city. St. Pierre said the pope was smiling and waving to the gathered crowd.  

“My sister touched the popemobile. She was ecstatic,” said St. Pierre, who said the trip has special meaning to him because of his sister.  

Colleen Peak had seen the pope twice, at St. Peter’s Square in Rome and in New Orleans. 

During the trip to Rome, Peak’s nephew and his wife had their marriage blessed by the pope in St. Peter’s Square.  

“You could see it in their faces, ‘This is like being in heaven, he’s blessing our marriage,’ ” said Peak.  

She added, “We have rosaries blessed by him. “We’re a JPII family.”  

Noel and Pat Ricord said Saint John Paul II has special meaning to them because he had just become pope when the learned they were about to become parents.  

“I feel very close to him because the day I was watching him (the pope) on TV – he had just been elected pope and stepped out on the balcony and waved to the people and the social worker called. He came over and said we would be able to adopt a baby. We found out that we had a son,” said Pat Ricord.  

Her face glowed as she said they have two grandchildren with one on the way.  

The Ricords had just returned from a trip to the saint’s homeland in Poland. They visited the convent of St. Faustina, whom St. John Paul canonized, St. Mary’s Basilica and the St. John Paul Sanctuary, which has the display of the blood-stained cassock worn by the pope when an assassination attempt was made on his life.  

“What got me is that all bloodstains eventually turn brown, but it was still kind of reddish,” said Noel Ricord.  

The Ricords said they were surprised to learn when they returned from Poland that the relics of St. John Paul were coming to the diocese.  

“We got to see him twice in the last couple of weeks,” smiled Noel Ricord.  

“Maybe we’ll have some prayer intentions answered,” added Pat Ricord.  

Patsy and Danny Williams and daughter Ali Richard were seeking to have a prayer intention answered through the relic visit.  

Danny Richard was recently diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer and was awaiting word on whether he would be accepted for a trial program at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  

Danny Williams said of his visit, “I was speechless. I was numb about the experience (learning about his cancer), but I could feel his (Saint John Paul’s) presence. He was a great pope and is a great saint.” 

Richard said, “My heart started beating fast. I knew I was in the presence of holiness.”  

Kathleen Schexnayder also knows what it means to have quickened pulse at seeing the pope, because she saw him in the blush of youth at International in World Youth Day in 1993 in Denver.  

“I remember I got separated from my youth group (from Memphis) during Mass. I remember he (Saint John Paul) said something about finding the lost, and not long after that I found the youth group,” said Schexnayder.  

She also remembers the pope asking the attendees to hold up their rosaries for a blessing.  

“I still have that rosary,” Schexnayder said.  

She added, “I was already a believer, but it put my faith on fire.”  

Shortly after WYD, the church approved girls serving as altar servers.  

“I signed up immediately, and I served the church (in that capacity) for three years until I went to college,” Schexnayder said.  

She said her heart broke when St. John Paul died.  

“I was six months old when he became pope, so he was all I knew,” said Schexnayder. “When he died, I felt disconnected for a while.”  

The visit, however, brought back good memories for Schexnadyer.  

“I’m excited because I touched my mother’s (St. John Paul) medal to it (the relic). She passed away in September so this is really special,” said a glowing Schexnayder.