“The message that I would want to give to people with this exhibition is to show the human and normal faces of these two great saint personalities,” she told CNA April 28.
“They were not only Popes, but they were the personification of God's love and God's goodness.”
Twenty total portraits of John Paul II and John XXIII were exhibited across Rome in both the main churches – such as St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls – as well as more remote parishes.
The collection was displayed in honor of the dual canonization of the two former pontiffs which took place on Sunday and drew hundreds of thousands worldwide to the Vatican.
Thirty-year-old Gulak, who draws, sculpts and paints, said that many of the John Paul II pieces were completed years ago. During a time when she was commissioned by the Vatican to do a metal sculpture of John Paul II, “I studied a lot of pictures of his face,” Gulak remembered.
“I was inspired by his face because for me he was not only a religious leader, a great saint and a great Pope,” she added, “But he was also a modern man of great charisma. He was the Peter of our times. He was a great leader, a philosopher, but he was also empathetic and a simple man.”
Gulak began and completed her work on John XXIII with what could be considered a striking amount of precision and speed given that the approval of his sainthood was announced only last summer.
She recalled that “after the news that they would be canonized together, I decided complete the cycle by portraying the faces of John XXIII because they had a lot of similar qualities: gentleness, goodness...they talked a lot about peace.”
What struck Gulak in reflecting on the lives and work of the two saints during their pontificates is the relevance of their words to the world today. “The joy, the charity and their beautiful quotes are still very valid to modern society,” she said.
“Not only for Christian people, but they send a message of hope, peace and the need of forgiveness and dialogue between different cultures, different religions.”
The artist also noted how throughout their lives, both pontiffs demonstrated the redemptive power of suffering. “We can also get a lot of strength from suffering,” Gulak observed. “They were examples as we can see during the death of John XXIII.”
“And also through the holiness of John Paul II. Most of his pontificate was an example of how suffering has meaning and that is also a message that I would like to give to all.”
On being present for April 27's canonization, Gulak said that as “a believing person, it was a great blessing for me that I could be here in Rome...You could feel the greatness of the moment. It was a wonderful and happy day.”
Estefania Aguirre contributed to this report.
Polish artist Anna Gulak has mesmerized pilgrims in Rome with a series of drawings on the recently-canonized John Paul II and John XXIII, portraying both the holiness and humility of the two saints.