Alan Krashesky's Blog: Pope John Paul II Beatification

May 1, 2011 2:36:50 AM PDT
ABC7 Chicago anchor-reporter Alan Krashesky blogs from Italy for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II.

Alan Krashesky, ABC 7 News Anchor & Reporter

He's the man who stood by the side of Pope John Paul II for nearly 40 years. Today we sat down for a one-on-one exclusive interview here in Rome.

I've had the pleasure of interviewing Poland's Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz previously in Chicago. This time we met in Rome shortly after the Cardinal of Krakow returned from an emotional ceremony at the Vatican.

The tomb of Pope John Paul II was opened today in the grotto beneath St. Peter's Basilica. It's the location where his coffin has been entombed since his funeral in 2005. The Vatican made the decision earlier to move the Pope's coffin from that spot to a temporary location near St. Peter's Tomb. It will be there until Sunday morning, then will be transferred again to a spot by the main altar. That's where Pope Benedict XVI, legions of cardinals and bishops and - eventually - the thousands of faithful will pass by to venerate the late Pope's remains, following the Beatification Mass on Sunday.

Cardinal Dziwisz was there as the coffin of his longtime friend was removed and viewed for the first time in 6 years (at no time were the remains exposed). The coffin is actually a three layered enclosure. The outer casket is made of wood with a metal plaque bearing the pontiff's name. Within that is an enclosure made of lead. Finally, the interior coffin itself is a simple wooden box - the coffin that was seen in public during the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

As other cardinals, priests, nuns and Vatican officials gathered around the coffin, a prayer was offered. Vatican workers, who had removed the coffin, paid their respects. A gold tapestry was placed over the coffin. Then Cardinal Dziwisz bent forward and kissed the lid of the coffin of his friend - a Pope on the road to sainthood.

You can see my interview with Cardinal Dziwisz on ABC 7 News tonight at 10pm, as well as here on our website. Check back here through the weekend for our coverage of the Beatification of Pope John Paul II.

Alan Krashesky

Alan Krashesky, ABC 7 News Anchor & Reporter

The preparations are under way in St. Peter's Square for the Beatification of Pope John Paul II. A large portrait of the late pontiff has now been hung on the colonnade surrounding the piazza. Scaffolding is being assembled for the TV camera positions used for live reports. The canopy structure that will cover the altar area is in place and workers are setting up thousands of chairs in the plaza for those faithful lucky enough to actually have a seat.

Then there is the weather forecast...
The current outlook is calling for rain on both Saturday and Sunday with high temperatures of 67-70 degrees. It's the rain that may become an issue. First, an outdoor vigil is scheduled for Saturday evening at the Circus Maximus, where Roman chariots once raced. The area is now an oblong grassy field with only a hint of the competitions that occurred there centuries ago. Then, the Beatification mass itself is outdoors on Sunday morning. Those who are traveling here to Rome to personally witness this papal honor are a fervent bunch. Understandably, they want the best seats or positions possible to see this historic event. It wouldn't be out of the question for many of them to stay outdoors all night, from Saturday into Sunday morning, in hopes of securing the best seats. If it's dry, that could be a fun adventure - camping out on the streets of Rome. If it rains, they'll be one soggy mess. Note to souvenir sellers: Prepare papal ponchos. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Tourists are still streaming into St. Peter's Basilica today - as they do nearly every day - to see the magnificent sanctuary and the breathtaking artwork of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. This is the last day that tourists will be able to view the current burial site of Pope John Paul II, beneath the Basilica main floor. Tomorrow, workers will remove his coffin from that location and move it up to the main floor by the Altar of Confession. It will stay there temporarily during the Beatification and shortly afterward, where the faithful can venerate his remains. At no time will his remains be exposed.

Eventually, his coffin will be moved to a new location, under an altar in the Chapel of St. Sebastian, also in the Basilica. Interestingly, the remains of another pope (Pope Innocent XI) had to be moved earlier from that spot in order to make way for John Paul's transition.

Check back here on our website for further updates on the Beatification. Our reports on ABC 7 News from Rome begin Friday on our news at 4pm on TV.

See you then!
Alan Krashesky

April 27, 2011
Heading to Rome...
By Alan Krashesky, ABC 7 News Anchor & Reporter

Aboard Alitalia Flight 629, over the Atlantic Ocean

It's always wonderful to speak with other Chicagoans when traveling. Of course, tthe experience of traveling to Rome makes it even more enjoyable.

Janine Duda is heading there. She's traveling with a group of Polish-Americans - about 40 in all. Janine is from Orland Park, but operates a travel agency in suburban Burbank. She has made this trip before - and so have others in her group - in April of 2005, following the death of Pope John Paul II. Back then, they could not sit at home and watch... They had to be there. They recall waiting for hours in the line to view his body and more than a few of them were among the dedicated pilgrims who filled the streets around St. Peter's Square, laying on the ground in sleeping bags or wrapped in blankets, so they could obtain the best seats for the late Pope's funeral mass. I'll never forget that night myself. After working late, editing our stories for ABC 7, we ventured out into the street near St. Peter's. I tried to navigate my way just a few yards from our work area in the Agostiniani Seminary, but it was impossible. So many people were sleeping in the street that it was difficult too walk without stepping on someone's sleeping bag, blanket - or their arms and legs. We turned back to our workspace location and I found an empty couch in the lobby where I managed to get a few minutes of sleep.

I've always been intrigued by the magnetism Pope John Paul II exhibited during his lifetime. Many Catholics I've interviewed use the word "charisma" to describe that quality. Interestingly enough, that word was used long after John Paul had lost his youthful vigor - well into his later years, when the ravages of Parkinson's and other visible physical ailments had taken their toll. Perhaps that was the key: His ability to connect with Catholics had more to do with the inner man, rather than the outward.

It seemed Chicago always had a special place in Pope John Paul II's heart. Those fortunate enough to enjoy a private papal audience with him will recall how his eyes lit up and sparkled when he realized he was speaking to a group of Chicagoans. "Ah, Chicago!" he would say. Certainly, our city's large Polish population had something to do with that, but there was more. It went back to the papal visit of 1979 - and even earlier to the Chicago visits of then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. He enjoyed the people of Chicago and the warm rousing receptions he received from Chicagoans - whether Catholic or not. He came to see us.

Chicagoans had a connection with this Pope, unlike any before, and perhaps like none to come. He became one of us... Not unlike the local sports hero who returns to play for the Bears, Hawks, Sox or Cubs. The difference was that - while not born here - his playing field was the world stage and leading billions in their faith. Yet, Chicagoans related to this man from Wadowice.

There are some who will argue that this step toward sainthood is coming too quickly. Not those who chanted "Santo subito!" at this funeral mass, but those who will point out that the most critical crisis to face the Catholic Church in recent history, that of sexual abuse by priests, occurred under his 27-year watch. Others will argue that the handling of that crisis - and for that matter, the circumstances that allowed it to occur in the first place - cannot be blamed on one individual - even if that individual is the Pope himself. Those defenders will point out that John Paul's response to the crisis, including summoning U.S. Cardinals and Bishops to Rome, led to substantive changes in how bishops and the Catholic Church as a whole now respond to allegations from potential victims and credible findings of abuse by priests. It's a good bet that those on either side of the issue will never see eye-to-eye.

Nonetheless, on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate the beatification mass for his predecessor. Previously, the Catholic Church recognized a miracle attributed to the late Pope John Paul II - A French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who claims that her Parkinson's disease was cured after she prayed to the late Pope to intercede on her behalf. John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, has noted that through this beatification rite, Pope John Paul II will surpass the beatification "record" of Mother Teresa by 15 days. Plans are well underway to move the coffin of Pope John Paul II from its current location, in a grotto beneath the Vatican Basilica, to a temporary location before the main altar in St. Peter's. After beatification, the faithful will be able to pass by his coffin by the altar. Later, the coffin will be moved to its final resting place in the recently renovated Chapel of St. Sebastian. Pope John Paul II will have the title of "Blessed" and Catholics will be able to publicly venerate him in Rome and in the dioceses of Poland. Masses will be celebrated in his honor. The final step of sainthood, canonization, would occur after an investigation of a second miracle attributed to the intercession of Pope John Paul II. If Pope John Paul II is declared a saint, then Catholics worldwide would be welcome to publicly venerate him and Catholic churches could be named in his honor - perhaps even in Chicago.

Whether Catholic or not, I hope that you will enjoy our coverage of this historic event on ABC 7 as the Catholic church honors this Pope who loved Chicago. I'll keep you updated on happenings in Rome throughout this week and weekend, so check back here on our website often.