Almost three years after his beatification, former pope John Paul II will be made a saint by Pope Francis on 27 April 2014 along with his predecessor, Pope John XXIII. John Paul II, revered by many Catholics, and nowhere more than in Poland, died in 2005 after a papacy of almost 27 years. Vast crowds of pilgrims are expected in Rome to witness the ceremony which is seen as an attempt by Pope Francis to reunite the increasingly disparate factions of conservatives and liberals within the church. John Paul II is fondly remembered as a conservative while John XXIII pleased liberals by calling the Second Vatican Council. John Paul II's lasting veneration in Poland is sometimes attributed to his pivotal role in encouraging Polish catholics to remain steadfast in their opposition to the country's communist rulers in the lead-up to the revolutions of 1989. The main criterion for sainthood is the performing of two miracle. John Paul II is said to have healed a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, from Parkinson's disease. Two months after his death, she claimed that all symptoms of her disease had disappeared. The pope had interceded on her behalf and was himself a sufferer. Church appointed medical professionals assessed Sister Simon-Pierre and concluded that there was no logical explanation for the cure. His second, posthumous, miracle occurred when a Costa Rican woman made an 'inexplicable recovery' on the day of the pope's beatification in May 2011 after her family had interceded with the deceases pontiff.
Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in 1920, John Paul II went on to become the youngest bishop in Poland in 1958 and then Archbishop of Krakow in 1964. In 1978 Wojtyla emerged as a compromise candidate in a contentious papal election following the death of John Paul I after only 33 days on the Chair of St Peter.
Poland is one of Europe's most religious countries with more than 90% of the population declaring themselves as Catholics and almost half of all Poles attending mass at least once a week. In the months leading up to John Paul II's beatification in 2011, a type of 'Popemania' set in. According to a survey then, one third of interviewees admitted to praying to the former pope, even though this type of veneration was, at that stage, still prohibited.
Throughout Poland there has been a proliferation of monuments dedicated to John Paul II. Since his death in 2005, an average of one new monument is unveiled every 6 days in Poland. Artist and sculptor Czeslaw Dzwigaj reckons there are some 400 odd pope statues in Poland, 70 of them his own creations. From small scale plaster casts being sold to private individuals to dozens of recently erected larger-than-life statues, John Paul II is experiencing a huge revival in his native country. The largest statue yet was unveiled on the outskirts of Czestochowa, Poland's spiritual centre, in April 2013.
Piotr Małecki travelled around the Polish countryside and the many towns that now boast their very own memorials to the only Polish pope, gauging the mood in the run-up to the big day.
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