WARSAW-On Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast day he himself had instituted, the late Pope John Paul II joined the ranks of the blesseds who are one step away from Catholic sainthood. Millions of Poles watched live broadcasts of the beatification in their homes, and at least 100,000 traveled to Rome for the event. They were among some 1.5 million pilgrims from all over the world who had converged on the Vatican to hear Pope Benedict XVI proclaim in Latin: "Through our Apostolic authority we give our assent for the Venerable Servant of God, John Paul II, Pope, to henceforth be called blessed and for his feast day to be observed on October 22nd of each year." That was the date of his 1978 papal inauguration.
The huge crowd of worshipers packed into St. Peter's Square cheered, applauded and wept as a large portrait of the handsome, smiling Holy Father in the first years of his pontificate was unveiled seconds later. That moment was most deeply experienced by the late pope's compatriots, some of whom waved white and red flags and held up banners identifying individual Polish towns and parishes. "Gdańsk Zaspa - Dziękujemy" (we thank you) read the banner from one of the Baltic port's neighborhoods. John Paul's beloved "górale" (highlanders) were also out in force in their characteristic folk attire.
"By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel," Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily. "In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ. (...) He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, of human fulfillment and the fulfillment of our yearning for justice and peace."
After the beatification ceremony had ended, thousands of faithful began lining up to file past the closed coffin of Blessed John Paul II at St. Peter's Basilica, to pay their respects. It was or remain there until all the pilgrims wanting to pay tribute to the late pontiff have done so. The Poles among them had come by plane, train, bus or car, and some of the younger pilgrims had hitchhiked or come by bicycle. A few even came on foot. On the eve of the beatification they could be seen camping on the streets in and around the Vatican. The most devout had attended a night-long prayer vigil. "We'll get our sleep in the bus on the way back home," one 50-year-old Polish pilgrim explained.
It was scorching hot under sunny skies at the Vatican, where volunteers were on hand to pass out bottled water to pilgrims and offer first aid. The weather was quite different across Poland on that day, but the scattered showers, wind and unseasonably chilly temperatures failed to dampen the spirits of hundred of thousands of Poles who attended beatification masses around the country. In many places, the live broadcast of the beatification could be seen in and around churches on large TV screens.
Major celebrations were held at Kraków's Divine Mercy Basilica, at the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Częstochowa and at the late pope's birthplace of Wadowice - all in southern Poland. After attending the beatification mass, Prime Minister Donald Tusk toured the former Wojtyła home which ahs been turned into a museum. Like many Poles, he credited the late pontiff for the freedom Poland now enjoys. "If we compare Poland's situation when Karol Wojtyła became pope with the situation today, we can truly say that the miracle has
occurred," he told journalists covering he event. A festive outdoor concert of the pope' favorite hymns and folk songs rounded out the evening's celebrations in Wadowice.
In Warsaw, thousands gathered at Piłsudski Square to watch the televised proceedings and attend holy mass. It was there in 1979, during Pope John's first pilgrimage to his native land, that he uttered his momentous words on the Feast of Pentecost: "May Your Spirit descend and change the face of the land...this land!" Many Poles regard those words as the spark of inspiration that helped them regain their freedom and independence.
In 1980, a year later, Polish workers launched a strike wave that led to the emergence of Solidarność, the Soviet bloc's first independent trade union. The rest is history and includes the peaceful overthrow of communist rule across the continent, the dismantling of the iron curtain and the end of the cold war. Poles old enough to remember those events usually say they are thankful to have lived through the Polish pontificate.
It was not surprising that Poles were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the beatification. According to a survey by CBOS, Poland's largest polling organization, 95 percent of those queried said it was an important event in their lives and 93 percent expressed the view that it would prove important for Poland.
When pressed, however, some of them admitted that even the beatification of someone regarded as history's greatest Pole would probably not improve the country's embattled political scene. Poland's largest opposition party, the conservative Law and Justice, chartered a special train to Rome rather than traveling with President Bronisław Komorowski and officials of the ruling Civic Platform (party). And the mutual recriminations and verbal abuse seems likely to increase ahead of this autumn's national elections.
Check Robert Strybel article about the meaning of the last names.
There have been many books written about the Pope. Here is one with his poetry, entitled: The Poetry of Pope John Paul II
Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, by George Weigel (Author)