KRAKOW, Poland –– Tens of thousands of Polish Catholics celebrated their country’s newest saint –– John Paul II –– by converging on the southern city where he served as cardinal-archbishop before becoming pope.
A priest raises the chalice as he celebrates Mass in honor of Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII in the ski resort Kasprowy Wierch in Poland’s Tatra Mountains April 27. That day at the Vatican, Pope Francis canonized the two former popes. (CNS photo/Agencj a Gazeta/Marek Podmokly, Reuters)About 50,000 people attended an open-air Mass at the Divine Mercy sanctuary on the outskirts of Krakow. St. John Paul had a great devotion to the Divine Mercy, the recognition of God’s mercy as demonstrated in his sending his son to die for the sins of humanity.
Other pilgrims attended an outdoor concert outside the nearby St. John Paul II Basilica.
Auxiliary Bishop Damian Muskus of Krakow urged people at the open-air Mass to use the sanctity of the moment to effect change.
“Let this moment on this exceptional night and day become the decisive moment at which we begin gathering graces for heaven and our own sanctity,” he said at the shrine April 27, the day Pope Francis canonized Sts. John Paul and John XXIII at the Vatican.
Krakow’s streets and squares were decorated with posters of Pope John Paul and Polish and Vatican flags. However, festivities were staged nationwide in towns and cities, including the capital, Warsaw, where Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Walz welcomed them as “a sign of gratitude for an exceptional pontificate.”
In Czestochowa, Poland, where thousands of pilgrims gathered at the Jasna Gora national shrine, Pallotine monks organized a giant telecast of the Vatican canonization ceremony for the homeless. And religious leaders celebrated an outdoor Mass in the Tatra Mountains, where St. John Paul hiked as a youth.
Paula O’Hare, a Catholic from Belfast, Northern Ireland, traveled to the pope’s birthplace of Wadowice, southwest of Krakow. She said believed Wadowice was the “next best place after Rome” to participate in the canonization.
“This is where John Paul’s spirituality was born, and they’re still doing all the right things here — with daily Masses, confessions and adorations. The world very much needs such examples today,” she told Catholic News Service.
Father Adam Garloch, a priest at Wadowice’s Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, said at least 500 local parishioners traveled to Rome with dozens of Polish church and government leaders for the canonization.
In Krakow, a Franciscan seminarian who identified himself as Brother Marek told CNS he hoped the canonization would “end the phase of building statues and expensive churches” and encourage a greater focus on “living witnesses to love and mercy.”
Anna Jurczak, a 15-year-old Scout providing first aid at the Divine Mercy center, said she respected the new Polish saint for his “warmth and authority,” but hardly remembered him.
She added that few of her fellow students had shown any interest in the canonization and said most now objected to being “forced to attend church and go to confession.”