The estimated one million people in Rome for today’s beatification put many pilgrims far away from the actual celebration, but the distance could not supress their joy.
“We just wanted to be here. For me, John Paul is one of the greatest men who ever lived. He changed the world for every country. History has never seen his like,” says Mieczyslaw Olepra from New Ross in County Wexford, Ireland. He’s just driven over a 1,000 miles by car only to find himself down a Roman side street with no view of St. Peter’s.
“Is it worth being here despite the view? Yes. Absolutely. I’d like to have been closer but, well, we arrived a little bit late this morning. But it’s worth it. Yes.”
Having to watch on a big screen in the nearby Piazza del Risorgimento is William Ssenyondo. An accountant, he traveled to Rome all the way from Kampala, Uganda.
“For me it doesn’t matter that I’m not in St. Peter’s Square. The fact is that Blessed Pope John Paul also walked on this street where I am sitting right now. So it’s quite an opportunity and blessing for me,” he says from beneath his umbrella in the baking morning sun.
Nearby, carrying a banner proclaiming “John Paul II - We ♥ U,” is a young mom named Kathy Hollingsworth and her daughter Livia. Originally from Arizona, Kathy is now a tour guide at the Vatican.
“My bedroom is just a block away over there and so from seven o’clock this morning we’ve been hearing music, pilgrims. We even looked out our window and found people in Renaissance costumes, which was kind of strange. But it’s fun. I talk about John Paul a lot on my tours. So it’s nice to be part of history here today and also to honor him in this way.”
Next to Kathy is the Burke family from Derry, Ireland. For the mother of the family Phil, this pilgrimage to Rome is her 60th birthday present from the family.
“I’m just pleased to be here. It’s lovely, it really is. It’s very special. I’ll never forget it. Just the atmosphere and to know that John Paul is a saint. He was a lovely, gentle man. I’ll pray to him now.”
The Burkes had made it to within the vicinity of St. Peter’s Square but planned to move out due to the density of the crowds.
It’s a similar story for Judy Petruskie from Manassas, Va. She now finds herself at the foot of the Via della Conciliazione, a distance away from the Vatican on the banks the Tiber River. Despite being so far away, she’s delighted to be here.
“It’s just a wonder to receive all the graces available from such a beautiful, wonderful Pope that we had. My memories of him are of his charisma and his wonderful, beautiful holiness.”
With Judy is Rosella Burkholder from Harrisburg, Penn.
“It’s very special to be here today. I loved the part when the banner was unfurled. I was here for when Mother Theresa was beatified but missed the ceremony due to becoming ill. So I was really excited to be here for this today. It’s been a beautiful, wonderful experience. I love John Paul!”