Thousands Honor Memory of Late Pope John Paul II

The faithful gathered in the thousands at St. Peter Square, Sunday, to commemorate the year after Pope John II's death.
( [email protected] ) Apr 02, 2006 06:42 PM EDT

The faithful gathered in the thousands at St. Peter Square, Sunday, to commemorate the year after Pope John Paul II’s death.

"John Paul II died as he always lived, animated by the indomitable courage of faith, abandoning himself to God and entrusting himself to holy Mary," Pope Benedict XVI said before tens of thousands of people, many of whom carried red and white flags of John Paul’s native Poland

At noon, Pope Benedict reminisced about the life of John Paul, from his triumphant first messages delivered at St. Peter’s in 1978 to his steady decline in health in his final days.

"In the final years, the Lord gradually stripped him of everything," Benedict said. "And when he could no longer travel, and then could no longer walk, and finally could no longer speak, his announcement was reduced to the essential: the gift of himself until the very end."

On Sunday night around 100,000 to 150,000 took part in a prayer vigil, including 10,000 Polish. Members of the Polish armed forces stood at attention, taking off their berets to pay homage to the late pope.

During the vigil, passages from John Paul’s poetry, books and homilies were read between prayers, hymns and Gospel readings. Benedict addressed Roman Catholics in Krakow, Poland reportedly through video link.

Saturday noon, in Krakow, two buglers played John Paul’s favorite song "Barka" atop the spire of the Notre Dame Basilica. In homage to the late pope, buglers will sound the "Barka" every at 9:30pm, the exact hour of the John Paul’s passing.

At John Paul’s home-city of Wadowice, thousands made the pilgrimage to offer their respects and prayers. The main square of the city was filled with yellow and white papal banners, interspersed with local and national flags. A large picture of the previous pope hangs at St. Mary’s Basilica, where Pope John received his baptism after his 1920 birth as Karol Wojtyla.

People placed candles at "the pope’s window" of the house where John Paul had lived as priest, bishop and cardinal.

Candles flickered in front of what has come to be known as "the pope's window" at the episcopate, from which Cardinal Karol Wojtyla and later Pope John Paul II would speak to Krakow's faithful.

There has been mention that John Paul is under consideration for sainthood. Polish Roman Catholics voiced hopes that their late pope would receive a speedy beatification.

"He contributed to the fundamental transformation of the world," said Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow. "For that reason, history has already called him 'Great.'"

Some Polish citizens consider John Paul a hero, giving him credit for inspiring Poland’s pro-democracy Solidarity Movement, which led to protests that would end communism in 1989.

Saturday, a Polish tribunal deciding where the late pope should be beatified concluded its investigation. The tribunal says they are looking into possible miracle that would beatify John Paul II, bringing one more step towards sainthood. The second miracle, however, would have to link to an intercession with God. Some citizens have claimed John Paul’s role in bringing the demise of communism a miracle.

In 1986, John Paul became the first pope to visit a synagogue. He also prayed at the sites of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, and the Wailing Wall in Israel.

Pope Benedict will also pray at Auschwitz-Birkenau during his visit to Poland in May. The succeeding pope will celebrate mass in St. Peter on Monday, as the commemoration continues.