OTTAWA – Anthony Sales' childhood passion for stamp collecting has become a Philatelic Tribute to Pope John Paul II that tells an astonishing story of the "pilgrim pope" in stamps from the nations of the world.
"He was really loved," said Sales, who lives in Richmond, B.C. "He was a man people were just attracted to."
Though he was called the Polish pope, Sales described him as "a man from Galilee" because when he spoke, he was reminded of accounts of St. Paul in Acts speaking to the people.
"John Paul is somebody who has to be known," he said. "We have to be reminded of what he did."
Mounted on 160 frames, the stamps tell the story of JP II's life, his travels around the globe, as well as important anniversaries and commemorations of his life, his papacy and his death.
The exhibit April 1-4, which straddled the sixth anniversary of the late pope's death, came to Ottawa only a month before John Paul's beatification May 2.
The tribute is the crowning of a lifelong passion.
Sales began collecting stamps from the Christmas cards his family received back in Karachi, Pakistan, where he grew up. His mother couldn't open his closet without a box full of stamps falling out.
Sales began his JPII collection in 1979 after the cardinal of Pakistan gave him two "covers" of the pope. A cover is an envelope or postcard with stamps sent through the mail for stamp collecting purposes.
Sales and his family moved to Canada, bringing with him his growing JP II collection in packets and boxes.
As part of the society, he mounted two five-frame exhibits, one of them of his Christmas stamps.
He thought to himself: "It's high time John Paul gets on these frames."
Planning an exhibit is similar to planning a book, he said. "You've got to have an index, contents, to build a story."
"It was very easy to build a story on John Paul, I knew the story very well," he said.
In 2007, Sales, a member of the Knights of Columbus, spoke with a grand knight about doing a bigger exhibit to coincide with the 2007 celebration of the Knights' 125th anniversary.
"How much John Paul do you have?" the grand knight asked. "How much do you need?"
"We'll start with 60 frames," he was told. Soon 60 frames became 75, then 100. "Every meeting I had I kept telling them it's going up. When it reached 160 frames, they said, 'Hey, stop it!'"
It took him 11 months of full-time work on top of his day job as an accountant for a hotel chain. He would come home from work, shower, have supper then work until midnight or 1 a.m.
"People who came to it were floored," he said. "They didn't expect something like this."
A trip to Ottawa for personal reasons and a visit to St. Patrick's Basilica prompted him to contact the local Knights and suggest bringing the whole 160-frame exhibit here.
Sales and his wife Jennifer, who supported the 11-month labour of love in creating the exhibit, said they were delighted that the exhibit in Ottawa is a "curtain raiser for the beatification."
"I am so glad and I would really like to take this exhibit to other places so people would have a chance to see it."