Pilgrims make long, arduous trips to fete John Paul

May 1, 2011

(Pilgrims rest at St.Peter's Square in Rome April 30, 2011/Giampiero Sposito)

For Janusc Skibinski, there was only one place to be on the day the late Pope John Paul took the last step before sainthood. The Polish customs agent drove his family 29 hours from their hometown on the border with Belarus and queued with hundreds of thousands of people through the night so he could make it into St. Peter’s Square for the beatification of Poland’s most famous native son.

Clutching a red-and-white Polish flag, he was among tens of thousands of devotees from Poland, flanked by pilgrims from all over the world in the biggest crowd in the Vatican since John Paul’s funeral six years ago.

“He was our beloved pope. He always knew how to lead and be our guide, he taught us how to live and he taught us how to love,” said Skibinski, 40, waiting with his wife and two children for stewards to allow them to move into the square. “We were at the funeral and we just had to be here to see him beatified,” he said.

By the time the weary but happy Skibinskis made it into the square, more than a million people had gathered in the area around the Vatican. At the mass, John Paul’s successor Pope Benedict pronounced a Latin formula proclaiming one of the most popular popes in history a “blessed” of the Church, before a tapestry showing the late pope smiling was unveiled to the applauding crowds.

“It’s right to be here, it’s a duty,” said Italian pensioner Renzo Rizzi, who traveled from the northern city of Milan and queued since the early hours to guarantee his spot.

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