Pope John Paul II has been canonized. Celebrations of the event are widespread in his home country of Poland, where his elevation to sainthood is seen as a point of national pride and a time for reflection.
The countdown is running: in Krakow, where the Polish pope studied and served as a bishop, a clock is marking down the hours until his canonization on Sunday (27.04.2014). There's also a "pope machine" standing in the courtyard of the building belonging to Krakow's curia, whereJohn Paul II
often stayed when making trips home. Visitors get a picture of the pontiff, who died in 2005, by putting in a coin.
Meanwhile, preparations are continuing for the major celebration of his canonization, and much of the country is taking part. Special church services, evening prayers, concerts and exhibitions will accompany the former pope's declaration to sainthood.
"It's a wonderful experience for me. I used to call him bishop, then cardinal, then Holy Father. Soon, I can say: Saint Holy Father," said the long-time secretary and friend of John Paul II, Stanislaw Dziwisz at a press conference. Dziwisz now serves as a cardinal in Krakow. "The canonization of this pope is an important moment for every Catholic."
Few critical voices can be heard in the Polish media, and a sense of national pride is apparent.
"He is our countryman, and that makes us very happy. At home, I will be in front of the television. When the pope was on TV, I always watched and listened to him. When he travelled to Poland, I always went to see him," said an elderly man, who was buying a copy of the pope's biography in a bookstore.
While devotional objects are no longer as sought after as they once were, the selection of books by and about John Paul II is immense.
The auxiliary bishop of Krakow, Jan Zajac, believes reflecting on the Polish pope's path is important, saying, "We should prepare ourselves inwardly. At the core of this celebration is an encounter with God and with the holy one, who shows me the path to holiness and serves as a role model for me."
A 'sincere, normal person'
Along with special Mass services, various major cities are preparing special events for April 27. In Poznan, opera star Placido Domingo will hold a concert in honor of the pope, including some works specially composed around poems by John Paul II. In Wroclaw, streetcars and a number of buildings, such as the university or city hall, are displaying quotations from the former pontiff. A multimedia show in 3D is even flashing across the walls of the Bishop's Palace in Krakow. Viewers are told that its images are intended to recall the pope's encounters with young people, who were of particular importance to him.
The role of John Paul II in Poland's history also represents an important topic. In Warsaw, an exhibition titled "The Pope of Freedom" documents his influence on the establishment of the Solidarnosc union and the fall of the communist regime.
"His significance for our country and the world as a whole is inestimable," said one visitor to the exhibition, adding, "But he was always a sincere, normal person."
For Bishop Jan Zajac, who knew the pope personally, his elevation to sainthood is no surprise. "I never had any doubt that he is a holy person," Zajac said. "He was always connected with God, but always open to other people. That is true holiness."
However, Zajac adds, no one expected that his canonization would come so soon.
Cardinal Dziwisz also stresses the theological significance of the canonization of John Paul II, which he sees as an occasion for all of Poland to discover the pope in new ways. "God gives us prophets that shape the future," said Dziwisz. "For us, it's important to get to know his rich legacy and to draw the right conclusions from it."
John Paul II will be canonized during the Mass held on April 27 in Rome by Pope Francis and will become the 31st Polish individual the Catholic Church has made a saint.