Tens of thousands of pilgrims have flocked to John Paul II’s adopted town of Krakow to celebrate the Polish pope’s sainthood, with the Vatican making official what many Poles have long believed.
“It’s the culmination of a religious process but for us he’s always been a saint,” 56-year-old civil servant Janina Powiazka told AFP news agency on Sunday in the southern Polish town where Karol Wojtyla spent his pre-papal years.
“It’s a huge day for us. The capstone of his life and of his life’s work, which he shared with us,” added the resident of the nearby mountain town of Zakopane, where the nature-loving pope often hiked.
Powiazka was among around 30,000 pilgrims from both Poland and around the world who gathered outside Krakow’s Divine Mercy Sanctuary, where a huge screen beamed live images from the Vatican’s historic canonisation ceremony.
It was there a young John Paul II came to pray during the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, while working at a nearby stone quarry.
The sanctuary on the hill was also home to Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska of the Blessed Sacrament, who was declared a saint in 2000 under the Polish pope’s watch.
The Sunday crowd erupted in a thunder of applause after current Pope Francis declared in a Latin prayer that fellow pontiffs John Paul II (1978-2005) and John XXIII (1958-1963) were now saints.
“It’s an extraordinary day,” said Barbara Sobola, 35, from the southern town of Jaroslaw.
“The pope was an example for us to follow. He taught us compassion for others, tolerance, kindness. He showed us how to endure suffering.”
“It’s all the more moving because up to now a saint was this distant person who lived centuries ago, but today we have someone who was close to us and whom everyone here knows.”
As well as Poles, hundreds of pilgrims from across the world also flew to Krakow to pay tribute to John Paul II.
“The Polish pope was always present in my life,” said Maria Badalla, a Mexican-born American who made the trek with a group of faithful from her parish in the city of Mount Vernon.
“He was blessed, kind, humble. I came to Poland because it all began here, this is where he lived. I wanted to find out more about who he really was.”