.- You donât have to go far in Rome to know that a Polish invasion is underway.
You can hear Slavic accents on every street corner. There are red and white Polish national flags fluttering in the sun. People are wearing t-shirts and hats emblazoned with image of the countryâs most famous son, Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified in St Peterâs Square this weekend.
âI think there will be about 100,000 Polish people here. We know at least 40,000 are arriving with organized groups but there are also lots making their own way here,â Polish radio journalist Dorota Piotrawska tells me in St. Peterâs Square.
âYesterday I met three men, two of them in their 60s, whoâve walked all the way from Poland just to be here to give thanks for our Pope and for all he gave us. Similarly, I met a young man whoâs walked from the town of Bialystok in eastern Poland. Thatâs over 1600 kilometers (990 miles). When I listen to the stories of Polish pilgrims here in Rome and what theyâve given up just to be here, well, I get very emotional.â
One such pilgrim is Kataryna Katarzyna, a 33-year-old student from the Polish city of Lodz, âIâm of the Pope John II generation. I was born the year he was elected Pope. I came to Rome when he died. So when we heard he was going to be a saint both I and my parents said, âwe must be there!ââ
Pilgrims such as Kataryna will be joined for Sundayâs beatification ceremony by the Polish president, Bronislaw Komorowski. Also present will be former president Lech Walesa.
The countryâs Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, has opted to spend the day in John Paulâs hometown of Wadowice in southern Poland. There about 20,000 people will pack into the townâs main square to watch events live from the Vatican.