By Chiara Santomiero
ROME, APRIL 12, 2011 (Zenit.org).- On Friday, thousands of youth began a pilgrimage in Krakow, Poland, to keep a promise and walk in the footsteps of John Paul II.
The first stage of the pilgrimage organized by UNITALSI (the National Italian Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines) was the Marian shrine of Czestochowa. There they left a cross that last year they had placed on the Pope’s tomb in Rome to stress their commitment to go to his land.
On Saturday in Krakow, they met in the Mariacka Basilica with Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and for many years John Paul II’s secretary, accompanied by the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno.
Elena Spadaro, who is in charge of the young people of UNITALSI, told ZENIT, “We have come in the sign of those words that the Holy Father addressed to young people at the end of his visit: ‘I have sought you and you have come.'”
This pilgrimage in Poland is part of an itinerary that has lead the young people of UNITALSI to visit, in the last few years, various European places of spirituality: In Italy, it has included Loreto, Assisi, Siracusa with the shrine of Our Lady of Tears, and Rome.
“In Peter’s city we decided on the new stage of Poland because the Peter of our generation, between 18 and 35 years of age, was John Paul II,” Spadaro explained.
This trip was enriched by new meanings after the news of the Pontiff’s upcoming May 1 beatification, she said, and it has represented “a challenge from the organizational and logistical point of view.”
The young people left from six different airports — Catania, Lamezia Terme, Bari, Naples, Pescara and Verona — taking with them also 80 youth in wheelchairs.
Courage and determination
“In fact, the disabled youth are the most enthusiastic about the initiative and the ones who have given us the courage and determination to go ahead,” said Spadaro.
She noted that John Paul II taught them all “that suffering must not be hidden and that it has value for humanity.”
During the meeting in the basilica, Cardinal Dziwisz recalled, “John Paul II called the sick ‘my greatest collaborators,’ and he taught that Christ saved the world through the Cross, giving meaning to suffering.”
He added, “Then, when it was his turn to suffer, and very much, especially in the last years, he lived as he preached.”
In the Mariacka Basilica, as in many other churches of Poland, placed next to the altar discreetly is a picture of John Paul II in anticipation of the May 1 beatification, after which the picture will be placed at the center, fulfilling the expectations of so many faithful.
The cardinal told the young people: “During his funeral, the people had posters with the writing ‘saint right away,’ as if his beatification was already initiated. You are here to repeat in some way the same thing.”
The mayor of Rome, Alemanno, indicated with particular intensity “the task of representing Rome when that promise of ‘saint right away’ sprang from people’s voices and in particular from Romans, whose hearts the first foreign Pope in the last 400 years had entered.”
He continued, “You are the outposts of that great celebration of May 1 that involves everyone, not only Catholics but also laypeople and Jews.”
Pilgrims to Rome
Some 300,000 faithful are expected in Rome for the beatification, the mayor noted, but the numbers will rise in subsequent days with all those who will go to give tribute to John Paul II’s remains, exposed until the flow of pilgrims is exhausted.
Alemanno met with Mayor Jacek Majchrowski of Krakow to strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two cities “connected by the great ‘bridge’ constituted by John Paul II” and “to launch a message of hospitality for the event of the beatification.”
“The many saints of our land solicit the sense of national belonging of Poles like no other social or political event succeeds in doing,” remarked Majchrowski.
This is even more true for Wojtyla, he said, “whose importance in the history of our country must not be considered only under the profile of holiness, but also for his contribution to political events and for having accelerated the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Antonio Diella, UNITALSI president, stated, “One cannot understand John Paul II deep down unless one comes from his land.”
Diella told ZENIT, “He was like this because he came from this extraordinary history of formation and of life and from a nation that knows what suffering is.”
He noted, “Our sick, instead, found in the teachings of John Paul II a great motive of hope: He, they said to one another, makes us understand that we are also important for God and for men.”
Diella recalled “the words that the Holy Father said to me on the occasion of the centenary of UNITALSI in 2003: He recommended courage and patience.”