.- Home to over a million Polish people, Chicago is bustling with plans to participate in the global celebration of Pope John Paul II's beatification.
Concerts, Masses, processions and special services dedicated to the memory of the late Pope are among the many local events planned in the days leading up to the beatification in Rome on May 1.
“He was extremely beloved,” said Ivo Widlak, spokesman for Chicago's Paderewski Symphony Orchestra, which is slated to perform three concerts in honor of the pontiff.
“Pope John Paul II was a very musical person and he loved to sing,” Widlak told CNA in an April 18 interview. “We as the organizers of the concert wanted to make sure that we played the songs that he liked, that he knew, that he sang.”
Along with personal favorites of the Pope's, such as the songs “Black Madonna” and “Barka” – which translates to “ship” – the symphony will play a classical repertoire including Bach, Mozart and Schubert from April 29 to May 1 at local parishes.
Although he didn't have exact numbers for the expected crowds at the upcoming concerts, Widlak said “there will be a lot of people. Everybody is overjoyed.”
“When he became Pope, the joy of the Polish people and the Polish nation was extraordinary,” Widlak said, adding that more than 1 million Poles reside in Chicago.
“When he passed away, the whole of Poland mourned and all Polish people around the world took it extremely personally – because we knew him, we saw him, we heard him speaking to us.”
“Now,” he added, “there is a lot of joy” over John Paul II's advancement towards being recognized as a saint.
“How often do you witness somebody, who you know as a living person, going to be a saint?” he said.
“This is something you can witness once in a lifetime.”
Diane Dunagan, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s media contact, provided CNA with a list of a dozen parishes in the area that are planning celebrations for the beatification.
Local Polish church St. Hyacinth Basilica will commemorate the life of John Paul II with six days of events.
From April 26-29, the parish will host evening Mass with a special homily of previously recorded messages of the late pontiff. Following Mass, a film of one of Pope John Paul’s pilgrimages to Poland will be shown.
On April 30, all night Eucharistic adoration will follow the evening Mass. The beatification ceremony on May 1 will be shown on a large screen and followed by a procession to the parish's John Paul II statue.
Archbishop of Chicago Cardinal Francis George is scheduled to participate in celebrations at Holy Name Cathedral on April 27, where reflections and favorite songs of John Paul II will be performed. Cardinal George will then join a group of pilgrims headed from the Chicago archdiocese to Rome for the beatification of the beloved Pope John Paul.
“Beatification” is the second step in a three-stage process the Catholic Church has created for declaring a deceased person a saint. Beatification confers the title “Blessed.”