Parishes throughout the city of Rome were filled the evening of April 26 with pilgrims spending the night in prayer in anticipation of the next day’s canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.
More than a dozen churches were open for adoration, Mass, confession, and private prayer, as Catholics from around the world joined locals in the candle-lit parishes, with backpacks and flags by their sides.
One Italian pilgrim, Massimo, attended a vigil with fellow Christians at the church of San Marco in the center of Rome.
“If we are brothers and sisters in Jesus, well, people have the right to see that we love each other. And our mutual love has to be something real, something that they can touch in order to believe,” he told CNA.
He said that he hopes “to share with everybody the experience” of the canonizations, which “has been (a) very nice, very strong experience because they (John Paul II and John XXIII) gave us so much and we, all of us, really can share together, and some beautiful witnesses from them.”
Richard Marsden, a seminarian from England, said that the Popes’ examples of sanctity were an inspiration for his own journey of faith.
“I didn’t meet John Paul II - obviously I saw him on TV and grew up with him as the Pope. It’s amazing to be able to witness somebody become a saint in front of your eyes, because every Christian person is called to be a saint. And to have these examples – like John Paul II, like John XXIII – to try and emulate is a fantastic thing and a great boost to the spiritual life.”
In Piazza Navona, two pilgrim brothers walked across the piazza waving a huge Mexican flag as Polish pilgrims gathered outside the Church of St. Agnes singing hymns. The excitement was evident.
“You see a lot of people from all over the world - it’s just amazing - the other flags from other countries, and you see all the people united in one place,” said Juan Pablo enthusiastically.
His brother, Jesus, who studies and works in Guadalajara City, added, “It’s going to be a huge event. I think that it’s something very important because it’s going to be a saint that we’ve met. I actually met (John Paul II) at the canonization of St. Jose Maria (Escriva).”
Although Juan Pablo never met John Paul II, his mother did - 24 years ago when she was pregnant with her son. “The Pope, gave her a blessing, and that’s why my name is Juan Pablo, John Paul,” he explained.
Pilgrims said the influence and example of John Paul II and John XXIII remain alive in their hearts.
One Polish woman noted John Paul II’s “example of sanctity: human sanctity, simple sanctity… he was the Pope of my whole childhood, so he is an example for me,” she explained.
Giorgio, an Italian man who travelled to Rome from Turin, spoke of John XXIII’s “great courage. He left the Vatican walls and met with people. One rarely sees a Pope like that.”
His fellow Italian Massimo said that the influence of the two Popes is in “what they did and what they lived.”
“It is something that we already have in our hearts, but they gave us a big hand to take it out from our inner selves.”
“What we have to do is to live the mutual love and to give witnesses of this, that is basically the secret of the Trinity, you know, the mutual love. And everybody has the right to share and to live this. Otherwise we are a disaster,” he noted.
“And Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, they showed us how to do it. With young people, but basically with everybody. They made the road, the direction. Now it’s up to us.”