- The Washington Times - Friday, April 8, 2005

VATICAN CITY — “Make him a saint, immediately” pilgrims chanted in Italian amid waves of applause that rolled through St. Peter’s Square yesterday as the funeral Mass began for Pope John Paul II.

Many had spent the warm spring night in sleeping bags under the stars for the chance to say goodbye to the religious leader who had embraced people of all faiths.

“He changed my life,” said Mieszko Bugajski, 22, a student from Warsaw, who traveled 28 hours by bus with a group of Polish Boy Scouts. “Now I want to live to share and help people.”

The Rev. Daniel Ange, 72, came by bus and train from Toulouse in southwest France with a youth group. They waved banners and sang hallelujah.

“This is the greatest saint of all 2,000 years of the church, I think,” Father Ange proclaimed, gesturing with a small wooden cross, “a real father for young people, a whole generation, a grandfather, giving them truth and love. Truth and love together. A perfect balance.”

Italy’s traditional warm hospitality embraced the millions of pilgrims who flooded central Rome.

“When we arrived, the Italians gave us tea and chocolate. The sleeping was very nice,” said Barbara Szatynska, who arrived by special train from Warsaw, the capital of John Paul’s Polish homeland. She got to Rome at 1 a.m. yesterday and spent the night with other pilgrims in a park at near the Colosseum.

She and her friend, Marta Jankowska, watched the funeral on a large television screen set up in the Circus Maximus on which the ceremonies in St. Peter’s Square were beamed during the 21/2-hour service leading up to the burial of the pontiff in a grotto under St. Peter’s Basilica.

“It was very well organized. Because the pilgrims were distributed around Rome in relatively small groups, we were safe, we were not overcrowded,” said Miss Szatynska, who runs a small travel agency in Warsaw.

Polish pilgrims were by far the largest foreign group attending the funeral, their red-and-white Polish flags fluttering throughout St. Peter’s Square.

Many from Poland wore Boy Scout uniforms, representing a movement that John Paul had praised months before his death as a group that can counteract “individualism, laziness, and apathy.”

Pilgrims were gripped with curiosity over the identity of the next pope, to be chosen when the College of Cardinals gathers in the Sistine Chapel April 18 to elect a successor to John Paul to sit on St. Peter’s throne.

“In my opinion the next pope should come from Italy,” said Marcin Baczek, 27, from the southern Polish city of Zywiec.

“John Paul was the first non-Italian pope for more than 400 years and now it will be time to continue the tradition of having Italian pontiffs,” said Mr. Baczek, who arrived Wednesday after a grueling 24-hour bus ride from Poland.

Elizabeth Uyon, 34, a Nigerian immigrant to Italy, was elegant in the sea of rumpled backpackers, wearing a bright green scarf tied in a knot around her head.

She and her children camped out on the sidewalk for nine hours before the funeral.

John Paul “is very gentle, kind with us,” she said. “Lovely, and so caring with all the immigrants. … He treats everybody equal.”

What did she admire most?

“His humbleness.”

Marco Di Gaetano, 28, an engineer from Pescara, Italy, sat quietly on the curb amid chanting pilgrims.

Mr. Di Gaetano said that the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy are not very important in his life, yet he loved John Paul.

“When I saw him on television, in whatever event … my feeling was happiness. I [can’t] explain better than this,” he said.

Pawel Rzepecki’s earliest clear childhood memory is the day 26 years ago when John Paul addressed the crowd at St. Peter’s Square in his first speech as pope.

It was a great moment for Poland’s vast Catholic community: John Paul was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

“And now this is, you know, a nice goodbye,” said Mr. Rzepecki, 35, a broker from Warsaw.

The article is based in part on wire service reports.

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