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Chicagoans Make Holy Pilgrimage To Rome

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Anthony Zawila is one of the Chicago-area pilgrims traveling to Rome this weekend. (CBS)

Anthony Zawila is one of the Chicago-area pilgrims traveling to Rome this weekend. (CBS)

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ROME (CBS) — There are hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Rome to attend this weekend’s beatification ceremonies for Pope John Paul II.

Among them are Chicago pilgrims who are part of a group organized by their city’s Archdiocese.

They talked with CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine about honoring the late pontiff -– who had a special relationship with Chicago –- and also the controversy that dogs Cardinal Francis George, thousands of miles away.

One Chicagoan believes his recovery from a debilitating back injury could be one of Pope John Paul II’s required miracles for sainthood.

“When I had the audience with him, I truly felt that I was in the presence of a saint, a living saint,” Anthony Zawila said.

Cardinal George was expected to arrive Saturday. Back home, he suspended Father Michael Pfleger after the St. Sabina pastor threatened to leave the Catholic Church if he was “removed” from his longtime assignment as leader of the black congregation.

Chicagoans on the pilgrimage in Rome hope the focus stays on John Paul II, not Pfleger, as Illinois reporters cover the Cardinal’s activities.

“Cardinal George has the authority to do what he deems necessary and right for the Archdiocese, and I respect his opinion totally,” Trish Kallembach of Park Ridge said.

Pope John Paul, who was Polish, visited Chicago in 1979 and was a source of pride to the city’s considerable Polish American population. He died in 2005 at age 84.

Leaving evening mass at one of Rome’s four major basilicas – St. Paul Outside the Walls — it was impossible to miss one group of pilgrims. Each wore a red bandana with the inscription “Beatification, John Paul 2, May 1” in Polish.

The group wasn’t from Poland – but from Chicago’s North Side.

“I listen to him all my life. I have to be here, I have to be here,” one group member told Levine.

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