WARSAW, Poland — A vial containing blood drawn from Pope John Paul II shortly before he died will be installed as a relic in a Polish church soon after his beatification later this year, an official said Monday.
Piotr Sionko, the spokesman for the John Paul II Center, said the vial will be encased in crystal and built into the altar of a church in the southern city of Krakow that is opening in May.
The exact date of the opening is not yet known, but it should be shortly after John Paul's beatification at the Vatican on May 1.
Sionko said the idea came from Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow and the longtime friend and secretary of the late Polish-born pontiff. The blood was drawn for medical tests at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic shortly before John Paul's death on April 2, 2005, and is now in Dziwisz's possession, he said.
"It was the cardinal's proposal," Sionko said. "He is of the opinion that this is the most precious relic of John Paul II and should be the focal point of the church."
The church in the Lagiewniki district is part of a center that will be devoted to cultivating the memory and the teaching of the late pope – who was born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, southern Poland, and spent decades in Krakow.
Many Catholics in the world are rejoicing over Pope Benedict XVI's announcement last week that he will beatify John Paul on May 1. Beatification is the last major step before possible sainthood.
The idea of displaying the pope's relics has met with some reservations, even inside the Catholic Church.
"The tradition of relics comes from medieval practices of teaching the Bible through images and symbols," said the Rev. Krzysztof Madel, a Jesuit priest in Nowy Sacz who has publicly questioned the usefulness of displaying John Paul's blood. "But in today's rationalized world the message should rather come through teaching about someone's life."
After John Paul's death, some Polish officials said they hoped John Paul's heart would be removed from his body and returned to his homeland for burial. However, church officials dismissed any possibility of dismembering the body, saying the age had passed for that practice.
Dziwisz said Friday that he has always been against dividing of the body, but that "relics have always existed and will always exist."