The beatification of John Paul II brought some 1.5 million Catholics into Rome on May 1st, the vast majority of whom had travelled from Poland to be as close as possible to his sainthood, work in progress since the date of his passing on April 2nd 2005. They occupied the entire area of Piazza Risorgimento with a kaleidoscopic range of camper vans, caravans and all manner of random four wheeled sleeping contraptions.
5,000 armed police set up hundreds of road blocks around the Vatican, while the likes of Robert Mugabe flouted an EU travel ban to sneak into ceremonies alongside Lech Walesa, Silvio Berlusconi and Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain. A curious mix of attendees drawn from the worlds of politics and royalty.
During his papacy, the Catholic church was embroiled in one serious sex abuse scandal after another, and many are of the opinion that Catholicism fell into a 27 year period of withering decline under John Paul II.
However, this did not deter the assembled masses of fanatical Polish believers, who would not be moved from Roma 00136 and 00192 for well over one week. Indeed, they made their presence felt in the most unlikeliest of places; bossing metro trains and all available public space as if their lives depended upon it. It was akin to watching the last days on earth for many, and the spectacle was a memorable one.
One cannot deny the fact that John Paul II was instrumental in the fall of Communism in Poland as part of Walesa’s Solidarnosc movement, but as the Catholic world waits for a second miracle to be awarded his way before canonization (Sister Marie Simone-Pierre of France, who mysteriously recovered from Parkinson’s disease, was somehow declared miracle #1), the rest of the world waits for common sense to prevail.