By Chiara Santomiero

ROME, MAY 1, 2011 ( St. Peter’s Square today was a sea of red and white flags and banners, the national colors of Poland.

Thousands of Poles came to today's beatification of their countryman, faithful to “their” Pope.

They joined people from around the globe who slept in the streets with the hopes of making it into St. Peter's Square, curling into sleeping bags or on top of newspapers.

The Polish continue to seek in Wojtyla not only a spiritual guide but a reference point for national history in a time of social and political uncertainty: “Poland, quo vadis?” (Poland, where are you going?) one banner read.

On a large red and white banner hung in St. Peter’s Square were written the words “Be not afraid. Open the doors to Christ.” These words opened John Paul II’s pontificate and symbolized it. They are the legacy in every mind today, the encouragement offering consolation. The volunteers too, who were drinking hot coffee at 3 in the morning to ward off the humidity of the night, had the words on their yellow jackets.

The sun came out in the morning even if there were some clouds in the sky. But the pilgrims had no doubt that John Paul II would intercede for good weather. Waiting for the start of the Mass, some young people slept in the Square or leaned against the barriers.

Benedict XVI, after the long entrance procession, arrived at his seat and received the first applause of the crowds. As Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar of Rome, recited the ritual request for John Paul II to be admitted among the ranks of the beatified, the crowds applauded again.

Cardinal Vallini revisited the stages of the life and pontificate of Wojtyla to continued applause.

“With our apostolic authority,” Benedict XVI proclaimed in turn “we grant that the venerable servant of God John Paul II, Pope, henceforth be called Blessed and that his feast may be celebrated in the places and according to the regulations established by law.”

The crowds again exploded in applause as the veil that covered the image of John Paul II under the central loggia of St. Peter’s was lifted and the banner with the words “Deo Gratias” ascended, attached to red balloons.

River of devotion

Following the beatification, a river of people formed, patiently awaiting a turn to pay respects to the remains of Blessed John Paul II.

Official delegations from 87 countries were toward the head of the line. And tens of thousands more waited for hours to see the modest wooden casket and ask for the prayers of the Church's newest Blessed.