KRAKOW, Poland — Mourning the loss of Pope John Paul II, both a spiritual leader and home-grown hero, Polish citizens are honoring the legacy of the man they credit with bringing an end to communism. Kelly O'Donnell reports from Poland.
What is the overall mood in Poland since his death?
There’s been a noticeable change in how people are responding. Before Pope John Paul passed away, we saw over and over people praying and hoping and believing, because of the conviction here that it was possible he might, in fact, survive his last illness. When word of his death came, people were visibly moved. They fell to their knees, with many shedding tears — it was a deeply felt loss among people of all ages.
Now that a couple of days have passed, people seem to be coming to terms with it. Tears are not as frequent, but people are still moved. They come together. They stand outside the churches. And they stand outside places that were important to Pope John Paul during his lifetime.
Many things are planned this week to commemorate Pope John Paul. Some will be on a very small scale as well as big plans for a huge march, processions in the street to commemorate his life and plans to watch the funeral on television.
It’s a very personal experience for people and it is affecting people of all ages: those who are deeply religious, and even those who are far less, view him as a national hero.
With the funeral being held at the Vatican, do the Poles have any activities planned to commemorate the memory of the pope?
There are so many different kinds of plans going on right now. Some of them on a small scale in local neighborhoods and parishes, and other larger ones. There are daily Masses and vigils, and many people will be viewing the Vatican’s services on television here.
So there are lots of ways to commemorate his memory. There is even talk of erecting a statute of John Paul at the cemetery where his parents are buried as another place where people could remember him.
What has been the reaction to news that the pope will be buried in Rome?
Between the time of his death and the time of the announcement that he’d be buried in Rome, there was a desire and a wish that many people spoke about hoping that John Paul’s remains would be brought to Poland. Many had a specify location in mind, like a medieval castle and cathedral where Polish kings are buried. Although there was very little surprise, there was definitely some disappointment that he would not be returning to Poland.
But, at the same time, people recognize that he was the pope for the entire world and it is very likely he will be buried at the Vatican. And if that was John Paul’s own wish, then they respect it and are in support of that. While they had hoped he would be returning to Poland, they had to accept the fact that he will not be back, yet they will be able to find a ways memorialize him. Some of his personal effects will be sent to Poland so people can see him there too.
Pope John Paul is remembered for being very conservative, with many of his beliefs stemming from his Polish upbringing. In Poland, what will be the Pope’s legacy?
His legacy will be one of faith. Because this is a devoutly Catholic country, even those who are less religious refer to themselves as Catholic, and the whole culture is centered around the church.
The church was viewed as a protector of the Polish people during times of war and during times of communism. So his legacy is not only as the person of faith but very much as a national icon. People will consider his greatest legacy was aiding Poland's break from communism. He sided with the Solidarity movement and he urged that there be a peaceful resistance to communism. People here widely say that had it not been for Pope John Paul II, communism might not have fallen the way it did. He is huge both as a moral figure but also as someone who showed enormous political influence in protecting Polish people.
NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell is on assignment in Krakow, Poland.