Nightly News | April 30, 2011
>>> now to rome , where thousands of people are gathering this evening to honor the late pope john paul ii on the eve of his beatification. that next to last step on the path to sainthood will be performed at a mass in st . peter's square by pope benedict xvi . nbc's anne thompson is covering it for us tonight. anne, good evening.
>> reporter: good evening, lester. and take a look at this crowd. there are thousands of people here in the streets just waiting for a chance to attend that beatification mass tomorrow. to get to this live shot location i had to walk over nuns, priests, adults, children, all already sleeping in the streets. it is a very impressive testament of faith and patience to john paul ii . tonight at circus maximus , where romans once raced charities, a celebration of pope john paul ii , on the fast track to stateho statehood. among the speakers the french nun who says her prayers to the late pontiff cured her parkinson's disease. the first of two miracles the pope needs to be made a saint. this weekend rome feels like a college town . john paul 's charismatic face is everywhere and on everything, trying to rekindle the catholic spirit . flickering in europe after decades of declining mass attendance.
>> europe's in a kind of spiritual, cultural funk right now. maybe this will break people out of it.
>> reporter: a funk exacerbated by an avalanche of claims of sexual abuse by priests. the same scandal that rocked the american church almost ten years ago. it is why american survivors say the church should slow the pope's path to sainthood.
>> all of this is just going too fast. and we don't yet know all of the implications of his inaction.
>> reporter: in rome there are knew dissenters. a million pilgrims are expected. many from john paul 's native poland. bringing camping gear for a night on the streets. so they can be in st . peter's square to honor a man who gave them faith and freedom by helping to end communism. john paul 's nearly 27-year papacy documented by arturo mari, his personal photographer.
>> is there a photograph that you think captures that spirit of god that you saw in john paul ii ? mari says it is this photo near t end of the pope's life, too sick to attend he watches the stations of the cross on tv, holding on to the cross, his source of strength even as he suffered. for washington cardinal donald worrell, he says john paul was and remains a beacon of hope.
>> we need heroes. we need people we can look up to. we need people who achieve the very things that we're attempting to do.
>> these pilgrims are in for a long night. they're not expected to be let into st . peter's square until 6:00 tomorrow morning , and then the mass that will beatify this still-popular pope begins at 10:00 . lester?
>> anne thompson in rome tonight. we'll look for your reports tomorrow, anne. thanks.