In his first year on the job, Pope Francis is taking the world by storm. This weekend his string of historic firsts continues when two of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, will be declared saints at the same time. Many Chicagoans are preparing for a trip of a lifetime.
Deacon Mariusz Kosla is leading a group of west suburban pilgrims to Rome this week to celebrate the canonization of Pope John Paul II, who he once met in a private audience.
"I actually got to meet a saint!" said Kosla. "You read about these people 100s of years ago, and I actually got to touch and talk to this guy."
Pilgrims from St. John Brebeuf in Niles and all throughout the Chicago area will join an expected record crowd of 7 million people at the canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII on Sunday, a moment that for many seemed inevitable.
"John Paul is the ultimate slam dunk candidate for sainthood if your standard is grassroots appeal," said John Allen, Vatican expert.
Pope John Paul's cause for sainthood was evident at his funeral, with banners proclaiming "Santo Subito," or "Sainthood Now," and a cheer that erupted from the crowd. Pope John Paul II appeared to be on a fast-track to sainthood. Normally, two miracles attributed to the deceased, need to be verified to be considered. The first was a French nun, said to be cured from Parkinson's. The second was a Costa Rican woman, cured of a brain aneurism.
"This is a guy who all around the Catholic world is already thought of as a saint, so this in effect just puts the slammer, the exclamation point on what Catholics already believe," said Allen.
In the sainthood of Pope John XXIII, it's a different situation.The Catholic Church attributes only one miracle to his intercession with god, but Pope Francis made an exception. John XXIII is often referred to as the "Good Pope." He called the second Vatican Council back in the 1960's, the historic meetings that led to masses being said in the local language, rather than Latin, and changed the way the Catholic Church relates to the world and other religions.
Chicago's relationship with the Polish pope, John Paul II, was cemented in 1979 when John Paul visited here and held a mass in Grant Park. His admirers even gathered outside the cardinal's residence, where the pope was staying. Tired after a long day, he urged them to say "good night."
He often showed his fondness for Chicago, it's large Catholic population and the Polish-American community. For Polish Chicagoans at a mass to celebrate and organize their canonization trip, it's the fulfillment of a lifelong wish.
"I always wanted to go to the funeral, I couldn't make it so this is my dream trip," said Grazyna Kahl, Chicago pilgrim. "To tell you the truth, I always thought that he was a saint."
Eyewitness News will be in Rome for the historic canonizations. Alan Krashesky will report from the Vatican starting Thursday, April 24 at 6 p.m.