Pilgrims make long, arduous trips to fete John Paul

Sun May 1, 2011 2:25pm EDT
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By Catherine Hornby

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - For Jan Skibinski, there was only one place to be on the day the late Pope John Paul II took the last step before sainthood.

The Polish customs agent drove his family 29 hours from their hometown on the border with Belarus and queued with hundreds of thousands of people through the night so he could make it into St. Peter's Square for the beatification of Poland's most famous native son.

Clutching a red-and-white Polish flag, he was among tens of thousands of devotees from Poland, flanked by pilgrims from all over the world in the biggest crowd in Rome since John Paul's funeral six years ago.

"He was our beloved pope. He always knew how to lead and be our guide. He taught us how to live and he taught us how to love," said Skibinski, 40, waiting with his wife and two children for stewards to allow them to move into the square.

"We were at the funeral and we just had to be here to see him beatified," he said.

By the time the weary but happy Skibinskis made it into the square, about a million and a half people had thronged the area around the Vatican.

At the mass, John Paul's successor Pope Benedict pronounced a Latin formula proclaiming one of the most popular popes in history a "blessed" of the Church, before a tapestry showing the late pope smiling was unveiled to the crowds.

"It was very moving, very overwhelming, especially when the tapestry was uncovered and everyone cheered," said Anne McManus from Motherwell in Scotland.   Continued...