Tens of thousands of people from around the world flocked to the Vatican on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul and pray that he be made a saint soon.
They came from the late Pope’s native Poland, from the United States, Asia and Italy to take part in a string of commemorations that will include a moment of silence at 9:37 p.m., the moment that he died a year ago.
Speaking at his noon address before he was due to start the commemorations, Pope Benedict recalled how his predecessor had “left a deep mark on the history of the Church and of humanity.”
“John Paul died as he lived, moved by an indomitable courage of faith,” Benedict told pilgrims gathered in a sunny St. Peter’s Square.
Benedict: Suffering without complaint
Benedict, who will say a memorial mass on Monday afternoon, recalled how much the Pope suffered without complaint and that John Paul died in the same apartment from where he was speaking.
“In the last years of his life, the Lord gradually stripped (the Pope) of everything in order to fully assimilate him (with God),” Benedict said, his words interrupted several times by applause and chants of “John Paul, John Paul”.
“When he could no longer travel, then no longer walk and in the end no longer speak, his gesture ... was reduced to the essential: a gift of himself to the last instant,” he said.
As the Pope spoke from his window overlooking the square, more and more pilgrims, some waving national flags, began arriving to commemorate John Paul and pray at his tomb.
“I don’t have the words to express my feelings. He was not only our father but a father to the whole world,” said Hanna Ulatowska, a 29-year-old flower shop owner who came from Warsaw.
Call for sainthood
Many in the crowd said they would be praying that the late Pope could be made a saint soon. Crowds at his funeral last year chanted “Santo Subito.” (“Make him a saint now")
The feeling was the same at the Lagiewniki shrine near Krakow, where thousands of Poles, including Polish President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, attended a memorial mass said by the late Pope’s private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.
“I pray every day so that John Paul II is made saint. He is a man that changed Poland, changed me, changed the whole world. He was already a saint in his lifetime,” said Katarzyna Malec, a pensioner from Krakow.
Last May, Pope Benedict put his predecessor on the fast track to sainthood by dispensing with Church rules that normally impose a five-year waiting period after a candidate’s death before the procedure that leads to sainthood can even start.
Church officials are investigating the healing of a French nun whose symptoms of Parkinson’s disease disappeared after she prayed to the Pope. This may be the miracle the Church would need to beatify the Pope, the last step before sainthood.