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Chicago Catholics Filled With Pride As John Paul Nears Sainthood

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Pope John Paul II (CBS)

Pope John Paul II (CBS)

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UPDATED 04/25/11 6:29 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of the faithful who were at the Vatican for Easter on Sunday will remain in Rome for the beatification of Pope John Paul II next week.

Francis Cardinal George will lead a group traveling to the ceremonies for the late pope’s road to sainthood.

The cardinal says the important thing is to see the pope as a witness to the risen Christ, and he’s reminded of the words John Paul often said, “Be not afraid.”

“There’s a lot of reason to be afraid these days, as we all know — the economic recession continues, terrorism is still a threat, we have wars outside our country, there are many people hurting,” he said. “So there are reasons to be afraid, and nonetheless, we hear him say again to us, ‘Don’t be afraid.'”

As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, more than 300 Chicagoans are making the journey.

At Saint Ferdinand’s Parish, where Easter Mass is celebrated in Polish, pride in John Paul II, who hailed from their homeland and even traveled to Chicago to celebrate Mass before hundreds of thousands in Grant Park, remains strong even six years after his death.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Jennifer O’Neill reports

“He actually put Poland on the map,” parishioner Beata Wiecek said.

The feelings are more than cultural. John Paul, they say, was a gently charismatic spiritual leader who inspired Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He was a man deserving of sainthood.

“He was so open to the people, and he actually knew how to speak to them and how to get them to do good things,” Wiecek said.

“We can see God in his person,” Father Jason Torba said.

Torba, who is St. Ferdinand’s pastor, met the late pope while a seminary student in Poland. He will also be traveling to the Vatican this week to help officiate at John Paul’s beatification services. He’s spoken personally to the Catholic official verifying miracles now attributed to John Paul.

“He was impressed with how many witnesses he got from people that really confirmed that he is the saint who intercedes for people and helps people in many ways,” Torba said.

Anthony Zawilla from the Southwest Side says he knew the moment he met John Paul that he was in the presence of a saint.

Zawilla met the pope in 1997 when Chicago’s All Saint’s Choir visited the Vatican. He still keeps the rosary and picture the pope blessed near his bed. He and good friend Aron Arellano are making the pilgrimage to Rome this week.

“It’s something that just thrills me, I have to be there no matter what,” Zawilla said.

“God only knows how many miracles will be attributed to him and to experience that is life changing,” Arellano said.

As many as one million are expected to be in Rome for the beatification–the largest gathering of the faithful since the death of a man now a step closer to sainthood.

At John Paul’s funeral crowds chanted “Santo Subito,” which means saint right away. Normally the church doesn’t even begin to consider a candidate for sainthood until five years after their death, at six years John Paul is well on his way. Candidates are beatified or “blessed” after one miracle has been attributed to them, two miracles get them to sainthood.

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