Vatican prepare to canonize 2 popes in St. Peter's Square in Rome

April 25, 2014 (ROME)

And two popes could be on hand to witness it all, also a first.

With the historic weekend ahead, the anticipation is building in Rome.

Vatican workers moved into high gear Friday, installing the official portraits of the saint-to-be.

People are pouring into Rome from Chicago and all around the world to witness a four-pope event, with two popes becoming saints and Pope Benedict, now retired, expected to attend the events on Sunday, and Pope Francis, the man who is bringing new life into the Roman Catholic Church.

He is the pope that brings a surprise with every turn.

The fun pope, inviting children to ride along in the pope mobile.

The servant pope, washing the feet of those disabled or incarcerated.

And the caring pope, touching those whom the world may seem to cast aside.

"There's an electricity in the air, because of this pope," said Vatican expert John Allen. "There is a sense that the church is back off the mat and in the game."

And this weekend, as he canonizes two former popes at once, he makes Catholic Church history, while at the same time allowing a bow to both sides of the Catholic spectrum, those who would see Pope John Paul II as being more conservative, and those who might view pope john the 23rd as being more liberal.

"I'm not sure if you want to interpret that politically or not, but it's a good move," said Francis Cardinal George.

And from a purely public perception standpoint, with all due respect, Pope Francis has made a number of good moves, from the moment he first appeared on the central balcony at St. Peter's Basilica and asked the crowd to pray for him.

And then he made sure to pay his hotel tab before moving into the Vatican, and not into the papal apartment, but instead into the more modest Vatican guest house.

And no, I don't want a limousine, thank you, the small car will be just fine.

The pope who allows a "selfie," asks the Catholic Church and the world to be more self-less.

"What we're talking about now is, 'humble, simple people's pope takes the world by storm,'" Allen said. "If that's not a revolution, at least in terms of perception, I'm not sure we've ever seen one.

That is the Francis effect that will likely be seen once again in full force come Sunday, adding to an event where the passions for many Roman Catholics already run quite strong.

Chicago pilgrims have extraordinary experience in Rome

It was an extraordinary experience Friday for some Chicago pilgrims who are in Rome for the ceremony to elevate Pope John Paul II and Pope John the 23rd to sainthood. Those pilgrims got to celebrate mass at the tomb of John Paul II.

Celebrating mass at the tomb of Pope John Paul II, who is buried beneath an altar inside Saint Peter's Basilica.

For a group of pilgrims from Chicago and the Midwest, the opportunity to worship there while celebrating a soon-to-be saint is so much more than a tourist stop. It's a touchstone on their spiritual journey.

"JPII is one of the most wonderful popes and to be able to be here and just actually celebrate mass at his tomb is unbelievable," said Barb Neustadt of Naperville.

That's a view shared by many lay-Catholics and priests alike.

Father Bob Lombardo from Our Lady of the Angels is assisting at this Vatican mass, but his real work is serving the poor on Chicago's West Side. Saints serve as inspiration for him.

"Sometimes we think of the saints as people who lived centuries ago, but this is someone who was contemporary to us," he said.

On the facade of St. Peter's, the portraits of popes John Paul II and John the 23rd are now in place, and the crowds are streaming into Rome, heading for Vatican City.

They come from around the globe, with significant representation from John Paul's native Poland and, of course, Chicago and the suburbs.

"To be catholic, it is universal," said Western Spring's Miriam Teirney. "We have a universal church and it's so awesome."

Krystyna Mazur wears the image of John Paul on her neck. She recalls her late husband saying that John Paul's election as pope was the greatest moment in Poland's history.

"I was praying to him that I will come and make it here, because it came by myself, and as you can see, I'm an old lady," she said.

This is a personal journey for former Cook County judge Francis Gembala. He attended a private mass with John Paul 24 years ago.

"I have someone that I've met personally, that I was inspired by, that I was driven by, that I look to as an example for life," Gembala said.

Elizabeth Mikowska hopes that a modern day saint will be easier for her to relate to her 12-year-old son, Gabriel.

"I lived through his pontificate," she said. "I lived every time he traveled or everything he's done for youth, especially."

Chicago native, Bishop Thomas Paprocki, spoke with the late Pope John Paul several times. The bishop now leads the diocese of Springfield.

"There was always this aura about JPII, where you had the sense that there was something special about him and very holy," Bishop Paprocki said.

This group of pilgrims, including Chicagoans, is heading into St. Peter's Basilica for a mass at the tomb of Pope John Paul II.

He's buried here, beneath this altar.

Chicago priest, Father Bob Lombardo, is helping to celebrate the mass.

"He was a great inspiration for me, so it just brought back a flood of really positive memories," he said.

And now, looking forward to Sunday, Chicagoans here are grateful preparing for a moment they will always treasure.

"It's just moved so many people to do wonderful things, so it's a privilege and an honor for us to be here," said Western Springs' Sean Tierney.

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