Krakow prays to its saint John Paul II
People pray in the John Paul II Sanctuary in Krakow-Lagiewniki, Poland on April 6, 2014 - by Janek Skarzynski
"This is his main shrine, where people feel John Paul II's living presence," says Sister Elwira at the John Paul II Centre in the Lagiewniki suburb of Krakow.
"Those who aren't able to make the trip call us from all over Poland and the world," she tells AFP, having already taken down dozens of prayers that morning.
The priests read them out in front of his relics, which are secured behind glass and have become a magnet for pilgrims.
Every day hundreds make their way to the centre, where finishing touches are being put on a new museum and other additions in time for the Vatican's double canonisation of John Paul II and John XXIII on April 27.
In the meantime a clock on the sanctuary tower counts down the days, hours and minutes until the big day.
- 'A symbolic place' -
"The pope couldn't have imagined a better spot for this sanctuary... It's a symbolic place for him," Sister Elwira says.
The site is located on a hill overlooking the now defunct quarry and razed Solvay chemical plant where the young Karol Wojtyla worked during the Second World War.
"John Paul II's relics have made this the main place of worship in Poland," centre spokesman Piotr Sionko tells AFP.
"We have a vial of his blood at the sanctuary's main altar. It's the blood that doctors from the Gemelli clinic drew shortly before his death and gave to his personal secretary Stanislaw Dziwisz," now the archbishop of Krakow.
An adjoining chapel houses the white-marble plate from the pontiff's original Vatican tomb, plus another vial of blood.
Among those lining up to kiss the relics and pray is 66-year-old Danuta Chachlica, saying: "I thank God for John Paul II and to have been lucky enough to live through his 27-year papacy with him."
The pensioner would have loved to have gone to Rome for his canonisation, which thousands of Poles are expected to attend, but for lack of travel funds she will instead attend a special ceremony at the sanctuary.
Other faithful have been gathering in front of the Krakow archdiocese where Karol Wojtyla lived for 15 years before becoming pope in 1978.
"I'm praying for John Paul II to finally be made a saint. Every blessed person should become a saint," says nine-year-old Ola Marciszek after lighting a candle outside a window adorned with a photo of the pope.
Born a month after his death, she already worships him like a saint. It is here that youths came to sing hymns during his many trips to Poland, and to pray at the end of his life and on every anniversary ever since.
- 'True story' -
Elsewhere pilgrims are coming together at mass, prayer sessions, catechisms and confession to remember their great figure in the run-up to his canonisation.
The festivities include launches of special films, exhibitions and books, as well as the musical "Karol Wojtyla: The True Story," which was written by the Israeli-American singer Noa and recently performed at the Slowacki Theatre in Krakow.
"We'll have a saint who lived among us," says student Mariola Pachowicz, who came to the pope's window at the archdiocese for a moment of quiet reflection.
"It's much harder to pray to a saint who lived 1,000 years ago. But John Paul II, he was with us just recently," she tells AFP, already looking forward to World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow.
"He's important for us, the younger generation that never got to know him. He'll remain a leader for us."