Crowds descend on Rome ahead of canonization

April 24, 2014 (ROME)

But the stage is just being set in St. Peter's Square for what's going to be a momentous day on Sunday in the Roman Catholic church. Two former popes will be canonized, or named saints, at the same time.

All across Rome, you can see the signs: posters of these two former popes John Paul II and John XXIII, barricades going up, streets being roped off. And the scaffolding's being created for media who've come from around the world to see this. Among the Chicagoans are Mary Wojcik and Debbie Lamm who have come here to Rome.

"To think that this could be happening in our lifetime, it's like I said, unique, different (These are the popes in your lifetime?) Exactly," said Wojcik, of Crystal Lake.

And adding to their excitement is the possibility that they'll see Pope Francis and also their belief that Pope Francis is refocusing and reenergizing the Catholic church.

"I feel like he's accepted and is accepting of all different religions and all different nationalities and it just seems like he's just a lot more in touch with the modern age and also with the younger people which I think is important for the Catholic religion," said Lamb, of Palatine.

Rome is getting more crowded by the day. Millions are expected to pour in by this weekend, and all of them will be hoping to be right here: St. Peter's Square. It's where two popes that many of us knew, or at least our parents knew, will receive the highest honor of the Roman Catholic Church. But just like in Chicago, a big event can mean headaches for the locals.

It's not a good night to park on Rome's streets around the Vatican. The tow truck wolf packs are out, clearing cars from where the crowds will gather, just like Chicago's winter parking ban.A lot of drivers will be unhappy in the morning, but that's just one step as this city gets ready.

A Polish children's choir warms up as Rome prepares for the canonization of 2 new saints, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. That's why Jim and Joann Klein from Burr Ridge have to be here.

"I think it epitomizes for Catholics what our religion is all about, I think it's the experience of a lifetime," said Dr. Jim Klein.

This is a significant moment in Catholic Church history. Pope John XXIII called the Vatican two sessions that, in many ways, brought the church out of Latin and into the modern age. Pope John Paul had rock star appeal and is credited for his work in Poland to end communism and the Soviet bloc.

"Both figures left such a special mark on the life of the church. It's incredible to celebrate both at the same time," said Fr. Albert Anuszewski, chaplain, Loyola University in Rome.

Combine that with the likelihood that retired Pope Benedict will be here, and the popularity of the current Pope Francis.

"I admire him, I really do. I'm happy to have him in the position he's in," said Kevin Louthlin, of Crete, Ill.

Two living popes, and two popes made saints.

"I'll be here Saturday night hoping to get as close to the front as I can get!" said Dr. Jim Klein.

He'll have lots of company. When Pope John Paul took a step toward sainthood back in 2011, his admirers packed the streets all around St. Peter's Square, laying down and sleeping on the pavement all for the opportunity to be near the front for the special mass. This time, it's an even bigger deal.

Eyewitness News will be in Rome for the historic canonizations. Follow ABC 7 Chicago on social media for a look behind the scenes of "A Celebration of Sainthood."

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