NBC News
By Ron Allen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/3/2005 7:29:37 PM ET 2005-02-04T00:29:37

In the town of Wadowice, the faithful pray for one of their own. As a young man, Karol Wojtyla was an altar boy here. He later became Pope John Paul II.

Since his illness, worshippers crowd St. Mary's church every day from far and wide. Thursday there was some encouraging news from Rome — the pope's condition is improving after a peaceful night.

But many pilgrims, like Iza Pelczar, who led a Catholic youth group here, are worried.

"It's extremely moving to be here," says Pelczar. "I was thinking maybe it's the end, maybe it's time for him to go."

There's deep concern in this town of some 20,000, where some knew the pope as a young man — an avid student, athlete and actor whose mother died when he was 8 and his older brother four years later. His father, a devoted Catholic, inspired his son to become a priest.

In the shadow of the church where the pope prayed, right across the street, sits the house where he grew up. It's a museum now, but back then it was a modest one-bedroom apartment. He is the first pontiff in centuries from such humble beginnings.

Thadeus Gajczak remembers soccer with his classmate, nicknamed Lolek, making a ball out of rags. Now he too is 84, same as his old friend.

"I am worried because he's been sick for a long time," says Gajczak. "But I believe the Lord will return him to good health."

The pope has come home to Poland eight times — more than any place else — and said mass at St. Mary's five years ago, where every day they now pray for one of their own.

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