By David Kerr
“I knew he was a saint.” Those were the words of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, close friend and confidant of Pope John Paul II, at the Circus Maximus in Rome this evening. Gathered with him were tens of thousands of pilgrims who had come together by candlelight to remember, give thanks and pray.
“If today he is proclaimed blessed it is only because he was already a saint in life,” Cardinal Dziwisz continued, drawing upon his many years at Pope John Paul’s private secretary.
“I knew he was a saint. I knew for a long time when he was alive and even before he was chosen to be Pope.”
His words were carried around the globe by a video link-up to five Marian shrines in four continents – Kawekarno in Tanzania, Guadalupe in Mexico, Fatima in Portugal, Harissa in Lebanon and Lagniewniki in the Polish city of Krakow.
It was from the last location that St. Faustina Kowalska spread her message of the Divine Mercy of Jesus. Providentially, Pope John Paul II died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, five years after canonizing Faustina and instituting the custom of giving this name to the second Sunday of Easter.
The pilgrims heard further testimonies from those who knew Pope John Paul most and loved him best.
His press secretary for many years, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, gave an insight as to the source of Pope John Paul’s sanctity and serenity:
“He looked for the mercy of God every week in confession. He believed that to be the cure for pessimism across the world. He would be most happy now if all of us got to confession on a regular basis.”
“He gave everything to God and did everything for God. Thank you to you John Paul II for the masterpiece of your life that was made possible through the help of God.”
Then the French religious sister whose miraculous cure from Parkinson’s Disease paved the way for tomorrow’s beatification retold her remarkable story. Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, said:
“When I was first diagnosed (in 2001) I had great difficulty even seeing Pope John Paul II on the television. In him, though, I saw a reflection of my suffering. I always admired his strength, humility and courage. He was, for me, a shepherd according to the heart of God, close to the weakest and small, speaking up in favor of the family and peace.”
“Thank you to everybody for being here tonight,” she concluded, “John Paul II looks down on you and is happy.”
Those present were also treated to a musical homage courtesy of the Diocese of Rome choir and the orchestra of the city’s Conservatory of St. Cecilia. In turn they were accompanied by traditional offerings from Rome’s Filipino community and a choir from the Polish town of Glogow.
The event was organized by the Diocese of Rome. It’s Vicar General, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, told pilgrims towards the end of proceedings:
“He (Pope John Paul) lived for God. He offered himself entirely to God to serve the Church as a sacrificial offering. He would often repeat this prayer: “Jesus, Pontiff, who handed himself to God as offering and victim, have mercy on us.”
Fittingly, given Pope John Paul’s notable devotion to Our Lady, the event drew to a close with the recitation of the rosary. Finally the present pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, imparted his apostolic blessing by video-link from the Vatican.
Eight churches in central Rome will now remain open throughout the night for pilgrims to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. St Peter’s Square will open to those attending tomorrow’s beatification ceremony from 5:30 a.m. onwards.