Saturday, May 27, 2006

Pope visits John Paul II's home

By Adam Easton
BBC News, in Krakow

The Pope with a picture of John Paul II in Wadowice
Benedict XVI holds up a picture of his predecessor in Wadowice
Pope Benedict has paid homage to his predecessor, John Paul II, by paying a visit to his home town of Wadowice in southern Poland.

During his one-hour stop the Pope visited the home where John Paul, then Karol Wojtyla, was born and grew up.

Crowds in the market square sang hymns and waved yellow and white Vatican flags as Benedict appeared.

The 79-year-old Pope said he wanted to pray with the town's people for the swift beatification of John Paul.

Brisk tour

Earlier, the German-born Pontiff visited the large 19th century tenement house where Karol Wojtyla was born. It is now a museum dedicated to the Polish pope's life.

During a brisk tour, Benedict was shown photos and artefacts such as the late pope's skis and camping equipment.

He also stopped in the nearby baroque church where the young Karol was baptised and later became an altar boy.

KRAKOW, Poland - POPE Benedict XVI stoked Poles' fervent hopes that John Paul II will be declared a saint, telling people in the late pontiff's native region Saturday that he hopes for canonization "in the near future."

Benedict's encouraging remark — an addition to his prepared text — generated a roar of applause from the 15,000 people gathered at a shrine outside Krakow, the city where John Paul served as archbishop before becoming pope.

Honoring John Paul is a major theme of Benedict's four-day trip to Poland, where the cause of John Paul's sainthood is extremely popular. Some hoped Benedict might make the official announcement during the trip.

Benedict, standing next to John Paul's former secretary, Krakow's Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz outdoors at the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska shrine, said: "Your Cardinal Stanislaw expresses the hope, as do I, that in the short future we will be able to enjoy the beatification and canonization of John Paul II."

Benedict earlier visited John Paul's nearby birthplace of Wadowice, where he joined townspeople's prayers for sainthood.

A large banner reading "Wadowice Prays For Sainthood Immediately, John Paul II the Great" in Italian and Polish hung in the packed square in front of the church where John Paul was baptized. Benedict said he shared the people's cause.

"I wished to stop precisely here, in the place where his faith began and matured, to pray together with all of you that he may soon be elevated to the glory of the altars," Benedict told some 30,000 people jammed into the town square under cloudy skies.

The crowd waved yellow-and-white Vatican flags as Benedict arrived by motorcade to pray in the church and visit John Paul's childhood home, accompanied by Dziwisz.

After praying in the ornate church, Benedict walked down a cobblestone street to the house on Koscielna Street where John Paul spent his boyhood. The house is now a museum devoted to John Paul.

Benedict was greeted by the nuns who run the museum, and he walked through the rooms where photographs document the boyhood of Karol Wojtyla, the future pope.

Shortly after assuming the papacy, Benedict waived the usual five-year waiting period after a person's death to begin a case for possible sainthood for John Paul. Miracles are needed for both beatification and canonization, and the case of a French nun whose inexplicable recovery from Parkinson's disease is being investigated by church officials as a possible miracle.

"The Holy Father is doing everything to make John Paul II a saint and we owe him deep gratitude for that," said Halina Bucka, 48, a kindergarten teacher from Wadowice who joined the crowd. "I think that the visit in Wadowice will strengthen him on that path and that very soon John Paul II will be officially announced a saint."

Mieczyslaw Koziol, 53, a businessman from Laczany, near Wadowice, also was quick to praise German-born Benedict.

"Benedict is consistent in his effort to make John Paul a saint. The fact that the process is proceeding so quickly is all thanks to him," he said. "Benedict follows in the footsteps of John Paul II, and this way he shows his greatness."

On a later stop, Benedict blessed sick and elderly people at the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, a modern sanctuary near Krakow consecrated in 2002 by John Paul.

"I would so willingly embrace each one of you," Benedict told them. "But since this is impossible, I draw you spiritually to my heart."

Benedict was on the third day of a four-day trip that will include a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, a visit heavy with significance for Catholic-Jewish relations, a favorite cause of both Benedict and John Paul.

Benedict has written in his memoirs of being enrolled in the Hitler Youth against his will, then risking execution by deserting the German army days before World War II ended.

Associated Press reporter Krzysztof Kopacz in Wadowice contributed to this report.


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