Updated: Monday, 28 April 2014 01:28 | By Agence France-Presse

John Paul II 'always' a saint in beloved Krakow

Tens of thousands of pilgrims flocked to John Paul II's adopted town of Krakow on Sunday to celebrate the Polish pope's sainthood, as the Vatican made official what many Poles have long believed.


John Paul II 'always' a saint in beloved Krakow

Crowds gather in God’s Mercy sanctuary in Krakow on April 27, 2014, to watch on a screen the canonization ceremony of Polish-born Pope John Paul II - by Janek Skarzynski

"It's the culmination of a religious process, but for us he's always been a saint," 56-year-old civil servant Janina Powiazka told AFP in the southern Polish town where Karol Wojtyla spent his pre-papal years.

"It's a huge day for us. The capstone of his life and of his life's work, which he shared with us," added the resident of the nearby mountain town of Zakopane, where the nature-loving pope often hiked. 

Powiazka was among around 30,000 pilgrims from both Poland and around the world who gathered outside Krakow's Divine Mercy Sanctuary, where a huge screen beamed live images from the Vatican's historic canonisation ceremony.  

It is here that a young John Paul II came to pray during the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, while he was working at a nearby stone quarry.

The sanctuary on the hill was also home to Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska of the Blessed Sacrament, who was declared a saint in 2000 under the Polish pope's watch. 

- 'He taught us compassion' -

On Sunday, the crowd here erupted in a thunder of applause after current Pope Francis declared in a Latin prayer that fellow pontiffs John Paul II (1978-2005) and John XXIII (1958-1963) were now saints. 

"It's an extraordinary day," said Barbara Sobola, 35, from the southern town of Jaroslaw. 

"The pope was an example for us to follow. He taught us compassion for others, tolerance, kindness. He showed us how to endure suffering."

"It's all the more moving because up to now a saint was this distant person who lived centuries ago. But today we have someone who was close to us and whom everyone here knows."

For 70-year-old Wieslawa Jezyna, who journeyed from the western city of Poznan with 50 others, the ceremony brought back memories of John Paul II's death in 2005.

"I remember that moment at his funeral, when there was an open bible on his coffin and suddenly the wind forced it shut," she told AFP.

"At that moment, something also came to an end in our lives. But today is a time of joy. To have a Polish pope who then becomes a saint, that won't ever happen again in our lifetime."

As well as Poles, hundreds of pilgrims from across the world also flew over to Krakow to pay tribute to John Paul II.

"The Polish pope was always present in my life," said Maria Badalla, a Mexican-born American who made the trek over with a group of faithful from her parish in the city of Mount Vernon. 

"He was blessed, kind, humble. I came to Poland because it all began here, this is where he lived. I wanted to find out more about who he really was," she told AFP.

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