In the sleepy town of Wadowice in southern Poland, they are sprucing up the main square and renovating the house where its most famous son, the late Pope John Paul II, was born as Karol Wojtyla 91 years ago. Wadowice, its streets decked out with stalls hawking kitsch papal memorabilia, hopes John Paul’s beatification on May 1 — the last step before sainthood — will lure even more pilgrims to the modest two-storey house which is now a museum.
The Catholic Church here and across Poland also hopes the beatification in Rome, bestowing on John Paul the title of ‘blessed’, will rejuvenate an institution whose image has been somewhat tarnished in his native land by political squabbles and a lack of charismatic leadership since the Pope’s death in 2005.
But even some devout Catholics fret that beatification, with all its commercial razzmatazz, may fail to get Poles thinking more deeply about their faith and the late Pope’s teachings. “About half a million people are already visiting Wadowice every year. Now we want to give them a modern, interactive experience of John Paul II,” said Father Pawel Danek, head of the museum, explaining plans to expand it tenfold to 1,000 square meters with the help of private and public donations.
Churches around Poland — where more than 90 percent of people say they are Catholic and some 40 percent attend mass every Sunday — will stage all-night vigils before the beatification. Tens of thousands of Poles will be among an estimated 300,000 converging on Rome for the ceremony.