By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Sunday, the Catholic world will witness the making of two saints. Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will rise to sainthood.
A new CBS News poll shows that among U.S. Catholics, 77 percent approve of John Paul’s canonization.
For Philadelphians, it’s very special. This new saint walked here.
In October, 1979, less than a year since the Cardinal from Krakow, Poland had taken the name John Paul II, he arrived on the tarmac of Philadelphia International Airport.
Meeting him were Mayor Frank Rizzo and the Pope’s long-time friend, John Cardinal Krol, Archbishop of Philadelphia.
“Apparently, his first words in English after being elected the new Pope,” said Rocco Palmo, the writer of “Whispers in the Loggia, “Were to Cardinal Krol, ‘I need to find an excuse to get back to Philadelphia.’”
That visit happened in a powerful way, the first of his seven U.S. trips, during his 26 year papacy.
In an open car, the Pope and the Cardinal came through the streets of Philadelphia, to throngs of well-wishers.
He visited sacred sites around the city. The crowning moment of visit came on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where a million people witnessed his Papal Mass. The altar had been built high over the fountain at Logan Circle.
Palmo says it was John Paul’s close friendship with Krol that brought him here, 20 years before he became Pope.
“He loved this city,” said Palmo. “Six months before he died, he gave a very pointed warning speech to the Cardinal and Auxiliary Bishops that this place has to clean up its act. It became too institutional, too managed. He saw what only the rest of would find over the succeeding years, grand juries and financial mismanagement.”
John Paul comes to sainthood quickly. After his death, Pope Benedict XVI suspended a five year waiting period to pursue the cause of sainthood, which includes an investigation of the holiness of a candidate’s life.
However, Benedict said the rest of the process needed to be followed. Two miracles, two healings unexplained by medicine, would have to be documented.
They were. A French nun was healed of Parkinson’s disease and then, a woman from Costa Rica, who had a brain aneurysm believed John Paul spoke to her, saying “Be not afraid,” and she was healed completely.
The Pope’s Philadelphia connection is particularly significant to students at Pope John Paul II High School in Royersford, Montgomery County.
“It’s really an exciting time for me and our school,” said Senior Matt Ringenwald.
John Paul’s pictures reflecting his time as Pope and his teachers are all part of a canonization exhibit.
Mariah Tarpinian said John Paul was the first Pope she grew up with. “His quote, ‘Be not afraid.’ is one of my favorite quotes.”
Rob Catalano calls him a perfect role model. “He had the strongest faith out of anybody. He was personable and down to earth.”
John Paul loved having young people around him too.
“It reminded him why he did 104 international trips,” said Palmo. “And reminded him why he founded World Youth Day to make the church better than the way he found it.
On Sunday, he will take his place among the saints.