A sense of joy, excitement and eager anticipation is building in Rome as the Eternal City draws nearer to hosting Venerable John Paul II’s beatification — an intense, three-day event that will include a prayer vigil and two Masses in St. Peter’s Square.
And although at least 300,000 pilgrims are expected during a weekend when Europe celebrates Labor Day, organizers stress that Rome can cope with many more, that accommodation is still available, and that anyone wishing to witness this historic event firsthand should make the journey.
The celebrations begin with a prayer vigil on the evening of April 30 at the Circus Maximus, once the venue of Roman chariot racing and now a large open field in central Rome. The vigil will be divided into two parts: the first dedicated to remembering the words and actions of John Paul II, and the second to the recitation of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, introduced by John Paul II in 2002.
The first half will include a solemn procession, during which the image of Maria Salus Populi Romani — historically the most important Marian icon in Rome — will be enthroned. Addressing the crowds will be John Paul II’s former spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Pope’s secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, the French sister whose miraculous recovery opened the way for the beatification process. The hymn “Totus Tuus,” composed for the 50th anniversary of John Paul’s priestly ordination, will also be sung.
Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general for the Diocese of Rome, will then address the second part of the vigil, summarizing the spiritual and pastoral character of John Paul II. The Rosary will then be recited, with a live connection to five Marian shrines around the world. Each of the five mysteries of the Rosary will be linked to a prayer intention of importance to John Paul II (from Krakow, the prayer intention will focus on youth; from Bugando, Tanzania, the family; from Harissa, Lebanon, evangelization; from Mexico City, hope and peace among peoples; and from the Shrine of Fatima, the Church).
Benedict XVI will conclude the vigil by reciting the final prayer and imparting his apostolic blessing to all participants. The Pope and the concelebrating cardinals will then make their way to the main altar in St. Peter’s Basilica and pray for a moment in front of the body of the new blessed. From that evening on, the Vatican says, those who wish to do so may venerate the remains of John Paul II.
The following day, Divine Mercy Sunday, the Mass of beatification will be held in St. Peter’s Square, beginning at 10am. It will be preceded by the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a devotion introduced by St. Faustina Kowalska and dear to John Paul II. This will be followed by Mass, and, at the end of the rite of beatification, a tapestry depicting the new blessed will be unveiled.
The following day, Monday, May 2, a Mass of thanksgiving will be held in St. Peter’s Square at 10:30am, presided by the Vatican secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. It will be the first celebrated in honor of the newly Blessed John Paul II. Music will be performed by the choir of the Diocese of Rome together with the Choir of Warsaw and the Wadowice (Poland) Symphony Orchestra.
Presenting the full program at the Vatican April 5, Cardinal Vallini said the celebrations will emphasize “the richness of John Paul II’s personality and the impact of his pontificate on the life of the Diocese of Rome and on the whole world.” But the Vatican is also keen to stress that the beatification itself is in honor of the late Pope’s personal holiness and not for what Karol Wojtyla achieved during his papacy or his impact on history.
The Vatican also announced that the coffin of John Paul II — which will not be opened — will be transferred on April 29 from the grotto of St. Peter’s Basilica to the Chapel of St. Sebastian on the upper floor. On the morning of May 1, it will be brought before the basilica’s main altar.
Many of those who were close to John Paul II have been sharing their insights and fond memories of the beloved Pope. One is Msgr. Slawomir Oder, postulator of John Paul’s cause for beatification, who told Zenit News Service April 7 that his work of postulation was a “beautiful adventure.” (See the interview on page 6.) Karol Wojtyla was who he appeared to be, he said: “There was no split personality, but rather a perfect transparency of the person.”
Msgr. Oder added that what struck him most was that John Paul II was a true mystic and that his close relationship with Christ was visible for all to see. Many of those who knew him well have made similar remarks, recalling John Paul II’s depth of prayer and profound dialogue with the Lord. Msgr. Oder also recalled that, among other sufferings, “the silent genocide that goes on with abortion was always of great concern to him.”
“The question about the richness of human life from conception,” he said, “was certainly a constant cross and a suffering in his life.”
Rome’s pilgrimage office is offering plenty of assistance to pilgrims attending the beatification. Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi has created a special “JPII Pass,” which includes three-day transport access, a box lunch, information kit, medical assistance, bus tours and other offers. (No ticket is required for the beatification itself.) The office has set up a useful website — JPIIBeatus.org — which has details in five languages on every practical aspect of the beatification, from schedules and where to stay to the best ways of traveling to Rome and maps of the city. The office will offer a social-media section on the site so that anyone can share their fondest memories of John Paul II.
The Vatican has also set up a special media initiative to mark the occasion: Unique digital postcards at the “Pope2You” Internet portal (Pope2You.net) draw on phrases extracted from John Paul II’s various addresses to young people. The Vatican says the postcards may also be used as invitations to young people to come to Rome to celebrate the beatification.
Opera Romana spokeswoman Rosa Maria Mancini urged prospective pilgrims not to be deterred by reports of large crowds, full hotel rooms and higher prices, and stressed that the office, which has good connections with hotels and religious houses, is on hand to help anyone find a room. She also reassured visitors that the city’s various hotels have signed an agreement to abide by the highest standards and not to raise prices. “There are safe and inexpensive places to stay,” she told the Register April 8. “It’ll be such a beautiful event — those passionate and interested in it should definitely come.”
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.