Rome scrambles to prepare
for 2 million pilgrims
VATICAN CITY, Jan. 16 (AP) – Crowd control experts were rushing to ready Rome for an estimated 2 million pilgrims for Pope John Paul II's beatification on May 1, when the city will be thronged with Easter week tourists.
No tickets or invitations will be necessary — as many faithful who want to be there to see the Polish-born Pontiff beatified, the last formal step before possible sainthood, can come, a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Saturday.
"We don't give estimates" of the size of the crowds who will come, said Benedettini. But Italian news reports say authorities in Rome were planning for 2 million pilgrims.
With St. Peter's Square and the boulevard leading from the Tiber to the Vatican able to hold a few hundred thousand people, large video screens are expected to be set up in nearby streets so the spillover crowd can watch the ceremony led by Pope Benedict XVI.
The last turnout so big in Rome was the 3 million mourners for John Paul's funeral and other ceremonies following his death in April 2005 after he struggled for years with Parkinson's disease.
Even the more popular ceremonies in his papacy didn't come near to drawing so many faithful. When an ailing John Paul beatified Mother Teresa in 2003 in St. Peter's Square, 300,000 pilgrims attended. Padre Pio's sainthood ceremony, led by John Paul in June 2002, saw about 200,000 faithful swelter the square in one of the larger turnouts in his 26-year-long papacy.
In 2000, about 700,000 young Catholics streamed into Rome for church World Youth Day events stretched out over several days at locations throughout the city as well as at the Vatican.
, an Italian daily, said the national civil protection agency personnel hope to rein in any chaos by meeting pilgrims' buses and channeling the faithful down selected streets to the square.
Easter falls on April 24, meaning Rome's hotels will be brimming with Easter week tourists, when many students are on school break and families pour into Italy, so organizers might look to Romans to open their homes to pilgrims.
May 1 is also national labor day, and traditional May Day concerts near the Basilica of St. John in Lateran usually draw hundreds of thousands of young people from throughout Italy to enjoy the free music.
On Friday, Benedict set the date for beatification after declaring that a French nun's recovery from Parkinson's disease was the miracle needed for John Paul to be beatified. A second miracle, attributed to John Paul's intercession after the beatification ceremony, will be needed for the widely popular Pontiff to be formally honored with sainthood.
Once he is beatified, John Paul will be given the title "blessed" and can be publicly venerated.
Veneration is the word commonly used to refer to that worship given to saints, either directly or through images or relics, which is different in kind from the divine worship given to God only, according to reference work, the Catholic Encyclopaedic Dictionary.
John Paul's entombed remains, currently in the grotto underneath St. Peter's Basilica, will be moved upstairs to a chapel just inside a main entrance for easier access by throngs of admirers.
A cursory and belated wrap-up of Poland's reaction to the news... I have not had the time to look up any English sources in Poland itself.
Polish leaders hail JPII beatification
WARSAW, January 16 (AFP) - Leading Poles including former President Lech Walesa last Friday hailed the Vatican decision to beatify the late Polish-born Pope John Paul II on May 1.
“I am doubly happy. Firstly, because a man who was a living saint will officially become a saint. Our Pope did great things,” anti-communist Solidarity trade union founder Walesa told AFP.
“Without him, there would have been no Solidarity in Poland. It was the Polish Pope and Solidarity that contributed to the disappearance of communism in Europe in the 20th century,” he said.
Historians agree that the 1978 election of Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to the papacy inspired the rise of Poland’s 10-million strong anti-communist Solidarity movement in 1980.
By 1989, under Walesa’s leadership, Solidarity negotiated a peaceful end to communism in Poland, making it the first country in the Soviet bloc to eschew the system.
By 1991, the Soviet Union crumbled putting an end to the bipolar world of the Cold War.
“It’s possible that our great friend, once he becomes a saint, will help us from on high to solve our problems in Poland, Europe and the world,” Walesa said last Friday.
In the southern city of Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the late Pope’s former personal secretary and one of his closest friends for 40 years, said Poland was “overjoyed”.
“Speaking in the name of the diocese, in the name of Krakow and, I think, in the name of all of Poland, I’m overjoyed,” Mgr Dziwisz told reporters in the city where John Paul II served as a cardinal.
“I want to express my great gratitude to the Holy Father for the decree necessary for this beatification,” Mgr Dziwisz said.
John Paul II is to be beatified on May 1 – a key step on the path to sainthood – the Vatican announced last Friday after his successor Pope Benedict XVI signed an official decree.
“Personally, I’m overwhelmed by it, even though I knew him since almost my youth (...) When the news arrived, I felt overwhelmed that John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla, will be beatified and canonised.”
“It’s an incredible feeling: I’ve understood how a husband whose wife has been canonised must feel,” Mgr Dziwisz added.
The process of beatification is usually lengthy, but calls for John Paul to be canonised came immediately after his death in April 2005 at the Vatican, at the age of 84.
Pope Benedict himself will conduct the ceremony in St Peter’s Basilica, according to Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.
May 1 falls this year on the first Sunday after Easter, which is the Feast of the Divine Mercy, a devotion promoted by John Paul II.
Italian media had suggested the beatification ceremony would take place on Sunday, April 3, the day after the sixth anniversary of John Paul’s death.
But Lombardi said that the date fell during Lent, traditionally a period of penitence for the Church as it commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, and “was not the ideal time” for a “joyous” ceremony.
Works are under way in St Peter’s Basilica to make space for Pope John Paul II’s tomb. As is traditional, the Pope’s remains will be moved up from the crypt to the nave of the basilica after he is beatified.
Preparations are being made in the Chapel of St Sebastian, on the right-hand side of the nave, between the Chapel of Michelangelo’s Pietà and the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament.
The ex-pontiff’s body “will not be displayed, it will be placed in a tomb closed by a simple marble tombstone with the words: Beatus Ioannes Paulus II,” (Blessed John Paul II), Lombardi said.
The beatification follows the announcement last week that the Congregation of the Causes for Saints had approved the Polish Pope’s first miracle. The commission confirmed that French nun Marie Simon-Pierre was miraculously cured of Parkinson’s disease through the intercession of John Paul II.
The following CNS story is dated January 14 but it was not posted until today since CNS does not register any activity at all on weekends...
For many, beatification announcement
confirms long-held sentiment
By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (CNS) -- The news of Pope John Paul II's upcoming beatification was welcomed by many as a confirmation of something they already felt from the moment the shouts of "Santo subito!" ("Sainthood now!") reverberated through St. Peter's Square at the Pontiff's funeral.
Many in the crowd were young people who had a special affinity to Pope John Paul, whose pontificate started and ended with a special greeting to young people. During his installation ceremony in 1978, the newly named Pope told young people: "You are the future of the world, you are the hope of the church, you are my hope."
And his last words, reportedly delivered hours before his death, were also to youths, in response to the thousands of young people praying and singing in St. Peter's Square.
"I sought you and now you have come to me. ... I thank you," said the Pontiff, who died April 2, 2005 at age 84.
Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, founder and CEO of Canada's Salt and Light Television, said it was no coincidence that he heard the news of the Pontiff's beatification while attending a meeting in Spain for the upcoming World Youth Day.
"A thunderous, sustained, standing ovation followed the announcement," he said in a Jan. 14 statement.
The priest, national director for World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, said the date for the beatification, May 1, is also no coincidence. Not only is it Divine Mercy Sunday, but it is also the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, known as "May Day" on secular calendars.
"Communists and socialists around the world commemorate May Day with marches, speeches and festivals," he said, adding that it was fitting that "the man who was a unique instrument and messenger in bringing down the Iron Curtain and the deadly reign of communism and godlessness will be declared blessed" that day.
Father Rosica said the announcement is "the formal confirmation of what many of us always knew as we experienced the Holy Father in action throughout his pontificate" particularly among youths, noting that one of the Pope's gifts to the Church was his establishment of World Youth Day.
Tim Massie, the chief public affairs officer and adjunct professor of communication and religious studies at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., called the news of Pope John Paul II's upcoming beatification a "morale boost" especially for Catholics in the United States "where sex abuse scandals, financial crises and disagreements with church hierarchy have dramatically affected parishes, dioceses and the faithful in the pews."
Because of the Pope's extensive travels in the United States, he said, "there are literally millions of people who were touched by his charisma and holiness."
The Pope visited the United States seven times and in each visit urged Catholics to use their freedom responsibly and to preserve the sacredness and value of human life.
In an e-mail to Catholic News Service, Massie said the "general public already considers John Paul II a saint and those who saw him, listened to him, prayed with him, already believed they met a saint -- not a future saint, but someone who, like Mother Teresa, lived out the Gospel message in his everyday life."
Michele Dillon, who chairs the department of sociology at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, said she believes most American Catholics will welcome John Paul II's beatification.
She described him as the "first cosmopolitan pope for a cosmopolitan age, and his warm, energetic, and telegenic personality served him well on his many trips to all parts of the globe."
Dillon remarked that it would "be interesting to see whether his beatification, at this time of uncertain commitment among the faithful, will reignite a new spark of Church engagement especially among the generation who as teenagers turned out in force" for World Youth Day events.
Dennis Doyle, University of Dayton religious studies professor, noted that many U.S. Catholics didn't understand the Pope and wondered how he "could be liberal on social issues but yet so conservative on church issues. He was consistent in a way that was difficult for some people in the U.S. to understand."
"But ultimately, he is being beatified because he was loved throughout the world and is recognized iconically as a holy person," he added.
Tony Melendez, the armless guitarist whose embrace by Pope John Paul electrified an audience during the Pope's 1987 visit to Los Angeles, said he had always considered his encounters with the Pontiff "like I got to meet a living saint."
Melendez, in a phone interview with CNS while en route to his Missouri home, said he got to see Pope John Paul six more times, including a private audience at the Vatican about a year and a half after the 1987 U.S. pastoral visit.
"He remembered me," Melendez remarked. "And he said, 'Oh! My friend from Los Angeles!' without me saying anything. He hugged my head after I was (done) playing a song. ... To me, he was a wonderful man who did great things."
Told of the May 1 beatification date, Melendez said, "If I can be there, I want to go. I'll make some time to go. He was a living saint, in my heart."
Vatican officials and Catholics
on the street talk about John Paul II
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY, Jan. 14 (CNS) -- Vatican officials, Catholic leaders around the world and ordinary people on the streets and in St. Peter's Square were more pleased than surprised by news that Pope John Paul II will be beatified May 1.
Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, retired prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, said, "finally" more than once during a brief conversation Jan. 14 just minutes after Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree recognizing the miracle needed to beatify Pope John Paul.
"This is what the whole world was waiting for," said Cardinal Saraiva Martins, who was the head of the saints congregation when Pope John Paul died and when his sainthood cause was opened.
"I can't help being happy. This is the crowning moment of a work I began," he said.
The cardinal said the written work of Pope John Paul is so vast and the time before his beatification so short that the best "spiritual preparation" Catholics could make would be to "thank God for Pope John Paul's example of holiness and recommit ourselves to follow his example."
Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, said Pope John Paul's upcoming beatification is a "call to each of us to emulate his personal holiness."
Anderson, who stood in St. Peter's Square on the day of Pope John Paul's funeral as many shouted "Santo subito!" ("Sainthood now!"), said there were many who were ready to have him beatified that very day.
In an e-mail to Catholic News Service, Anderson called the upcoming beatification a great opportunity for the world to focus on the Pope's message of human dignity.
"He led by example, caring for the poor, the intellectually and physically disabled, the unborn, the oppressed. He forgave those who did him harm, and he broke down barriers. He had great respect even for those who differed with him religiously. In short, Pope John Paul is a model the world needs," he said.
Anderson said the beatification is not a recognition of the Pope's "successful papacy or a thank-you for his good work" but a call for each person to "imitate the holiness, the love of God and neighbor that this man exhibited throughout his life."
Jim Nicholson, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, who also attended Pope John Paul's funeral, said the vast crowd that day was a testament to the Pope's exceptional qualities "of leadership and hope."
In a phone call from his Washington law office, Nicholson told CNS he was "extremely pleased" for the Pontiff, whom he frequently described as a "hope-filled freedom fighter." During his 2001-2005 role as ambassador, he got to know Pope John Paul pontiff personally and said he greatly admired his "adherence to hope, faith and prayer, coupled with courage and clever actions."
Jim Young, a Presbyterian from Ohio, was in St. Peter's Square when the beatification announcement was made. He said his only real reaction was that he'd better make sure he found some Pope John Paul souvenirs because "I'm related to a bunch of Polish Catholics who were already convinced he's a saint."
Giovanni Caponi, one of the souvenir-sellers who has a stand on the boulevard leading to St. Peter's Square, said the news will be good for business.
From a sales point of view, "John Paul is our most popular figure. No one greater exists. He's No. 1," said Caponi, who described himself as a nonbeliever.
Kaitlin Benedict, a 21-year-old Catholic from Eden, N.Y., said she thought the decision to beatify Pope John Paul just over six years after his death "is a little fast. I was surprised. Usually these things take decades and now they're just changing up tradition. But if they feel so strongly ...," she said, her voice trailing off.
Brigida Jones, a 26-year-old Australian from Melbourne, said Pope John Paul "was probably one of our best Popes; he was a people's Pope."
The young woman said, "I think he did so much when he was alive, and you'd just see him on television and get this sense of peace -- obviously he was holy."