.- With the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II fast approaching, those who knew and loved the late pontiff are speaking out about the imprint he left on the Church and the world.
Archbishop Piero Marini remembered the “almost father-son relationship” he enjoyed with the Pope while serving as his master of liturgical ceremonies. In a Vatican Radio broadcast on March 28, he said that the beatification is a way for all people to once again “re-encounter this friend of humanity” by getting to know him, his love for evangelization and his strong witness.
Archbishop Marini remembered that the "greatest gift" the Pope ever gave him was in reminding him of the everyday quality of holiness. "Each of us ... must build sanctity responding to the vocation that the Lord has given us in our life with humility and simplicity as John Paul II did. He spent his entire life announcing the Gospel to create unity."
By going out to meet the people where they were, proclaiming God's Word and celebrating the Eucharist and sacraments, the Pope was able "to create around himself, around the person of the Pope, truly the unity of the Church," said the archbishop.
Cardinal Roberto Tucci, who planned the Pope's lengthy and frequent trips to international destinations, remembered the Pope for his "spontaneity."
He was present at a press conference last week to launch Italian journalist Angela Ambrogetti's new book, "Travel Companions," examining previously unedited comments and conversations the Pope had with reporters on his trips abroad.
Cardinal Tucci called the book a "rare and efficient testimony of the personality and the ideas of Pope Wojtyla which comes across with great freshness – as it was – with his extraordinary spontaneity and freedom of expression, with his kindness and bluntness before others, also to that special kind of humanity that are journalists."
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, and veteran Vatican analysts Gian Franco Svidercoschi and Paloma Gomez Borrero recounted anecdotes of their personal experiences with the pontiff on the numerous papal flights.
Beautiful accounts of the Pope’s spirituality have come to light.
Cardinal Angelo Comastri said Pope John Paul "restored Mary to her place in the Church alongside Jesus."
In an article written for the Diocese of Rome's website, the archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica and Marian scholar recalled that in the 1960s and 1970s many sought to marginalize the Madonna.
Into this "Marian winter," Pope John Paul led the Church to rediscover Mary, said the cardinal.
"It is beginning from Jesus, in fact, that one discovers Mary, and beginning from Jesus that one notes the presence of the Mother and her interminible mission ... that of leading us to him!"
Cardinal Comastri remembered the great faith of John Paul II and his untiring devotion to the Blessed Mother.
"Every time we touch the crown of the Holy Rosary and recite the Holy Mary, may a spontaneous exclamation come out of our hearts, "Totus tuus, Maria!" (Totally yours, Mary!). It is the Marian inheritance that John Paul II left us."
Initiatives to remember the Pope are also popping up all over the city. On March 31 at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Cardinal Angelo Amato of the Vatican's department for saints' causes and the late-Pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, will be joined by journalists and experts in examining public opinion and "sensus fidei" (sense of the faithful) ahead of the beatification.
A pub in downtown Rome called the GP2 (Italian abbreviation for JPII) has announced that it will be hosting a series of encounters for the month of April in the countdown to the beatification. The Diocese of Rome-sponsored establishment has scheduled the likes of Fr. Slawomir Oder, the priest in charge of John Paul II's cause for sainthood, and former vicar general of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, as speakers at the gatherings.
Pontifical universities and religious communties are organizing events, lectures, conferences and prayer memorials for the late Pope ahead of this occasion, which could prove to be the largest since his funeral on April 8, 2005.
Vatican officials are hesitant to make estimates as to possible attendance. Expectations will certainly be become more clear during an April 5 press conference at the Vatican's Press Office. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, current vicar general of Rome, and other Church officials will host the press event.
At a March 29 press conference, Vatican-affiliated pilgrimage and travel agency Opera Romana Pelligrinagi (ORP) set the bar low, saying they are expecting a minimum of 300,000 people to attend.
The pilgrimage agency has set up reliable information hub at www.jpiibeatus.org, offering information on the beatification, lodging and travel for anyone interested in making the trip.
The organization is even offering a multilingual telephone hotline for direct inquiries and a discounted three-day tour pass for the weekend. They emphasize that no ticket is needed for the ceremony.
The agency announced that structures are being built around St. Peter's Square for the huge influx of people. Reception points will serve pilgrims around the Square with bathrooms and refreshment stands, while young adults are encouraged to "spend the night safely" in a village set up outside the city.
They announced that the city of Rome awaits all who come "with open arms."