VATICAN CITY (CBS) – Chicago’s polish community was overwhelmed with pride on Sunday as many made the pilgrimage to witness Pope John Paul II’s journey toward sainthood.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine has more on Sunday’s beatification ceremony in the Vatican, which hosted the largest crowd of pilgrims we’ve seen since the funeral of the man they’d come to honor.
About 1.5 million people turned out, many from Pope John Paul II’s native Poland and also from Chicago, which has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw.
Starting well before noon, St. Peter’s Square was filled with people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, with many others lined up for blocks outside the square.
Polish-Americans from Chicago attended in native dress and were already in line 12 hours before the ceremony. Many pilgrims never made it into the square itself.
“Of course we were a little disappointed, but mostly we were just mystified because I’ve seen large crowds,” Chicagoan Susan Hansson said. “I went to the World Youth Day in Poland in 1990 when the Holy Father was there and I thought I would be able to manage to get closer to him and this was just a shock. The crowd was enormous.”
Others were so worn out from the ordeal of getting to the Vatican that they missed at least part of the three-hour ceremony.
The highlight of the ceremony was the unfurling of a tapestry, depicting Pope John Paul II looking a lot younger and healthier than he was when he died, ending a 26-year papacy.
The pilgrims who came to celebrate had been asking for this since the day he died and that’s what would have pleased him most, said the people who knew him best, like Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali.
“This represents the love of the people, he can correspond to love. He can appreciate what the people of God have done,” Rigali said. “He recognizes this is a tremendous response to what he was able to do.”
That response was reflected in the thousands who continued to file past his casket inside St Peter’s Basilica Sunday night, in a clear indication that that the public push for sainthood shows no sign of subsiding.