By Mark Abrams
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – He was a frequent visitor to Philadelphia before he became a world figure. On Sunday, he will be among two popes to become saints in the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyla, became good friends with Philadelphia’s former Archbishop John Krol. Both were made cardinals at the same time in 1967.
Rocco Palmo, a Philadelphia-based journalist who covers the papacy, says because of Krol’s Polish heritage, ability to communicate in Polish, and their friendship John Paul spent many vacations here.
Before visiting Philadelphia as pope in 1979, Palmo says Cardinal Wojtyla took part in the Eucharistic Congress here in 1976.
He stayed at St. Charles Seminary in Lower Merion and caused quite a stir among those on his floor.
“And people were asleep and would hear coins going into a vending machine at 3 o’clock in the morning and they walked out and they saw this guy in a t-shirt and jeans and they didn’t know who he was and he would say: ‘Oh, hello, how are you?’ Bad English, they didn’t know who he was. And he would start drawing them into conversations about the nature of God, the life of the church. And, then, two years later they saw him on the balcony as pope.”
Also being canonized Sunday is Pope John XXIII, who called the church to reform through the second Vatican council. Palmo says Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII broke the mold when it came to the papacy.
“These two people were the first two really to be seen not as the austere figure in Rome whose foot you would kiss as a sign of reverence to him, but pope as person, someone who brought their own talents, own gifts, their own personality to the office and weren’t just some austere figure wearing a triple-deck crown.”
Palmo says John XXIII was called the “Good Pope,” because of his humble roots and his pastoral zeal.