By Genevieve Pollock
ROME, MAY 3, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Thousands of young pilgrims demonstrated the impact Blessed John Paul II had on their lives by waiting more than 16 hours in line to attend his beatification on Sunday.
They arrived outside the security fences at St. Peter’s Square at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, where they would begin an all-night vigil waiting to see Benedict XVI and to celebrate the beatification of his predecessor, John Paul II.
Nathan Hart, a 16-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio, told ZENIT that waiting for hours in the rain with gathering crowds of pilgrims was “the greatest act of faith and resilience of the Catholic community that I have ever seen.”
At one moment, the crowds began to get tense with the growing number of people vying for a space in line to get into St. Peter’s Square for the next morning’s events. Yet peace descended as the pilgrims spontaneously organized a rosary in various languages, praying together with other groups from different countries.
For Doug Kayser, a 21-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana, that rosary was “the coolest thing about the whole night.”
He explained to ZENIT that the vigil on the street was worthwhile, because “it was my first time in Rome and I wanted to have my things blessed by the Pope.”
John Konopka, a 13-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, echoed these thoughts, underlining the “special graces” of being near the Holy Father. “I wanted to be there to receive the graces,” he said.
The group would eventually find a place in the square close to where Benedict XVI passed by in the popemobile.
1 million strong
The spaces allotted for the crowds to watch Sunday’s beatification ceremony were opened gradually, and the pilgrims moved forward at 2 a.m.
By the time St. Peter’s Square was opened at 5:30 a.m., some 25,000 people had already gathered to claim a place to stand for the 10 a.m. beatification Mass. Some 1 million would arrive by the time the ceremony started.
Ben Heyob, a 14-year-old from Cincinnati, reported that his breakfast Sunday morning consisted of Nutri-Grain bars and a beef jerky stick split three ways, but it was “totally worth it.”
In the beatification ceremony, he said, “the moment the picture was unveiled, and the people began to applaud for seven minutes straight, it gave me goose bumps.”
Ben’s 10-year-old brother, Jack, said that “the best part of the day was the beatification moment and receiving the Eucharist.”
The young people arrived back to the United States today, after having the chance to also pray before the tomb of Blessed John Paul II and visit some of the other pilgrimage sites in Rome.
Ray Heyob, who brought his three sons on the pilgrimage, said it was an “extraordinary opportunity to be at an event for such an extraordinary person.”