JP II: A Great Man—But A Saint Above All

Crowds began to gather at 5 pm Saturday evening 12 hours before the gates of St. Peter Square would open for the mass Sunday, April 27, to canonize Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.  Pilgrims nestled in the streets with camping gear for an all night vigil. And when St. Peter’s Square opened at 5 am, it took little more than two hours for it to be filled.

“It was a long night, but it has been an incredible experience,” said Lucia, an Italian student from Milan

Vigil for canonizations
Vigil for canonizations
who traveled to the canonization with four friends.

She wasn’t yet born when John Paul II was elected pope but she has been touched by the powerful words that initiated his long pontificate: “In his famous speech when John Paul II says ‘Open your hearts to Christ, do not be afraid,’ that really touched me, though it was before I was born and only watched it on video.”

Others who gathered in the Square had very vivid personal memories of Pope John Paul II. Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo Cárdenas of Cancun, Mexico was among the last bishops to be appointed by John Paul II in 2004, the year before he died.

“I met John Paul II. He ordained 

Camping pilgrims before canonization
Camping pilgrims before canonization

me as bishop,” said Bishop Elizondo. He recalled when the pope went to Mexico to see the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “I saw him there very close crying when he heard the people saying ‘Viva il Papa , Viva il Virgine Guadalupe.’”

“He was a poet. He was a mystic. He was a great man — very intelligent, extraordinary talent, but above all he was a Saint,” said the Cancun bishop, who had studied in Rome as a seminarian and young priest.  “A great saint because he lived the virtues: poverty, chastity, obedience, faith, hope, all the main Christian virtues.  So, for this, I admire him so much.”

Sister Benedetta, a Polish sister of the Sisters of the Congregation of Saint Elizabeth also admired the great virtue of the Polish pope: “I like Pope John Paul II because he was a true man, a man who was truly a shepherd to his sheep.”

“He always loved the poor, so, so many poor.  The poor today are not only those without money, there are the poor who do not have homes, jobs, and many other things

Polish flags St. Peter's Square Canonizations
Polish flags St. Peter's Square Canonizations
, and he loved them so,” explained Sister Benedetta.

“He also loved the youth, because there he saw the future.  For me, he is always Pope. ‘Sempre Papa,’” she said.

Polish pilgrims were plentiful at the canonizations.  Young Polish pilgrims Alexandra and Domenica attend the event in St. Peter’s Square: “We are here, we are able to speak Polish in every place because everywhere we go there are Poles, our own people.  Many of us came.”​

But back home there were celebrations too: “In every city in our country there is some event in honor of JPII canonization. Today everyone will celebrate.”

Alexandra and Domenica were young when John Paul II was pope.  “We do not know him well personally, but our parents and families taught

us a lot about him.”

For Polish Sister Santa of the Congregation of St. Elizabeth the reason for the world to celebrate his canonization is clear: “He made holiness something closer to us, so that we could all touch it.”

Cecilia O'Reilly writes from Rome, where she is a student at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.