FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

How I became a pilgrim

I grew up in a country with deep Catholic traditions. I was just a year old in 1978 when Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. It was a huge surprise in the then‐communist country, a satellite of the Soviet Union, that a son of Polish soil could become the head of the Catholic Church - which was painfully divided by the Iron Curtain.

Over the years, it became a natural feeling that the pope was Polish. The words ‘pope’ and ‘Pole’ becoming synonyms in my mind. John Paul II visited Poland eight times as the pontiff but I only had one chance to see him live when his papa‐mobile passed my home in 1991. I was 14 years old and took a picture of the event.

Unfortunately, during my professional career I never took a picture of Pope John Paul II. My first such assignment came only after the late pope passed away and I was sent to Rome for his funeral. It was a really hard time with no sleep, no time for eating or bathing. I just wandered about taking pictures of thousands of pilgrims sleeping along the Vatican streets and waiting for several days to attend the funeral ceremony. The air was full of grief. I also queued for hours to get to the St.Peter’s Basilica following an endless stream of people who wanted to honor John Paul II and to take a picture of his body exhibited to the public.

Six years later, it was clear to me that I had to capture pictures from the historic moment of John Paul II's beatification. I wanted to show the emotions of people traveling from Poland to Rome for the ceremony that was bringing their countryman closer to sainthood. So, I decided to travel together with pilgrims by train from Warsaw to the Vatican. A dedicated train with some 800 pilgrims ‐ including six priests, nuns, families, youths and the elderly ‐ left a Warsaw station on Friday evening and headed for a 27 hour journey to the Vatican.

The trip was not a luxurious one with seating for eight people in each compartment, but a deep religious experience was more important for these people who were well prepared for the inconveniences of the ride. They prayed together and sang religious songs until they slept on mats covering the train’s floors.

Philippine Catholic bishops clash with Aquino over contraception bill

(Participants sit below a huge banner during a mass against a reproductive health (RH) bill in Luneta park, metro Manila, March 25, 2011/Romeo Ranoco)

Philippine Catholic bishops on Tuesday walked out of talks with the government over a planned bill allowing contraception in open opposition to President Benigno Aquino who vowed to push the bill into law. Aquino pledged last month to push for the enactment of a reproductive health bill in Congress in a bid to lower the maternal death rate in the Philippines, even at the risk of excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.

The church, a major social and political force in the poor Southeast Asian nation, has blocked similar bills since the 1990s by talking to lawmakers and has denounced Aquino’s support for contraception, considered a sin.

Rare rally tests Vietnam’s religious tolerance

(Catholic seminarians attend Easter Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi April 24, 2011/Kham)

Vietnam has deployed troops to contain a rare mass protest by ethnic Hmong people that is testing the government’s tolerance of minority Christians, just weeks after human rights activists accused leaders of persecuting another hill tribe. As many as 7,000 Hmong people began to gather several days ago in the far-flung mountains of Dien Bien Province, near the northwestern border with Laos and China, apparently for religious reasons although some were advocating an independent kingdom, according to diplomatic, government and other sources.

The unrest was unlikely to pose a threat to the government but the demonstration is the biggest involving ethnic minorities since unrest in the Central Highlands region in 2001 and 2004. Details were scant from the hard-to-access region but a Catholic priest close to the area cited followers as saying troops had been deployed and the protesters had detained at least one government official sent to negotiate.

Vatican condemns Canadian ex-bishop over child porn

(Bishop Raymond Lahey arrives at a police station in Ottawa October 1, 2009 to face child pornography charges/Chris Wattie )

The Vatican has condemned former Canadian Bishop Raymond Lahey after he pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and said it planned to take disciplinary action against him.  Lahey, former Bishop of Antigonish in the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia, was charged with possession and importation of child pornography in 2009. He pleaded guilty on Wednesday and his sentence is due to be handed down later.

“The Catholic Church condemns sexual exploitation in all its forms, especially when perpetrated against minors,” the Vatican press office said in a statement on Wednesday. “Although the civil process has run its course, the Holy See will continue to follow the canonical procedures in effect for such cases, which will result in the imposition of the appropriate disciplinary or penal measures,” it added.

Excerpts of Pope Benedict’s homily at beatification of John Paul

(Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead the mass for the beatification of Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's square at the Vatican May 1, 2011/ Max Rossi )

The late Pope John Paul moved a major step closer to sainthood on Sunday at a ceremony that drew more than a million people, the largest crowd in Rome since his funeral six years ago. Here are excerpts from the Vatican’s official translation of Pope Benedict’s homily at the beatification mass:

“Six years ago we gathered in this Square to celebrate the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Our grief at his loss was deep, but even greater was our sense of an immense grace which embraced Rome and the whole world: a grace which was in some way the fruit of my beloved predecessor’s entire life, and especially of his witness in suffering. Even then we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God’s People showed their veneration for him …

Eyewitness: How John Paul made an Italian-American “part Polish”

Reuters Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella covered the late Pope John Paul for almost all of the pontiff’s 26-year papacy and followed him on most of his many voyages around the world.  In keeping with news agency tradition, his reports focused on the pope and rarely if ever mentioned his own feelings as he followed him year in and year out. On the day that John Paul was beatified, we want to break that tradition and give readers Phil’s personal view of his experience covering the Polish pope.*

By Philip Pullella

Phil Pullella with Pope John Paul on the papal plane returning from a trip to Kazakhstan and Armenia, 27 September 2001)

Although I was born in Italy of Italian parents and raised in New York, I consider myself “part Polish”. This is thanks to the man beatified on May 1. But perhaps even more than my proximity to the late Pope John Paul, it was my closeness to his countrymen and countrywomen that left an indelible mark on my soul. And I don’t mean soul in the religious sense, but in the poetic sense. I have no Polish blood, but I have a part-Polish soul. Of this I have no doubt.

Pope John Paul beatified before huge crowd at the Vatican

(A view of the crowd in Saint Peter's Square during the beatification mass for Pope John Paul II led by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican May 1, 2011/Stefano Rellandini)

The late Pope John Paul moved a major step closer to sainthood on Sunday at a ceremony that drew about a million and half people, the largest crowd in Rome since his funeral six years ago. “From now on Pope John Paul shall be called ‘blessed,’” Pope Benedict, wearing white and gold robes, proclaimed in Latin, establishing that his predecessor’s feast day would be October 22, the day of the inauguration of John Paul’s pontificate in 1978.

To the cheers of the crowd, a tapestry showing a smiling John Paul was unveiled after Benedict read the proclamation. St Peter’s Square was packed and the crowd stretched as far back as the Tiber River, more than half a km away. The devotees, many carrying national flags and singing, moved toward the Vatican area from all directions from before dawn to get a good spot for the Mass.

Pilgrims make long, arduous trips to fete John Paul

(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.

Factbox: Roman Catholic Church’s saint-making process

(Pope John Paul II covers his face during mass in Banska Bistrica in this September 12, 2003 file photo/Radu Sigheti)

The Vatican is preparing to elevate the late Pope John Paul II one step closer to sainthood Sunday.

Here are some key facts about the canonization process by which the Roman Catholic Church makes a saint:

Timeline: Life and times of Pope John Paul II

(The special edition postage stamps of the late Pope John Paul II, valued at 0.60 euro ($0.89) each, are seen in Rome April 29, 2011/Alessia Pierdomenico)

The Vatican is preparing to elevate the late pontiff, John Paul II, one step closer to sainthood on Sunday in a ceremony of beatification. Here is a timeline of the pontificate of John Paul.

October 16, 1978 – Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow in Poland elected as first non-Italian pope in 455 years.