Local Catholics join throngs attending beatification

By Alicja Pozywio | Staff writer
Sunday, May 8, 2011

A gigantic sea of pilgrims filled the square in front of St Peter’s Basilica and the streets of Rome on the day of blessed John Paul II’s beatification. Among them were about 300 faithful from the Archdiocese of Chicago who traveled in groups and individually to venerate the newly Blessed John Paul II.

There was a convert baptized last Easter Sunday, a woman who followed John Paul II on his pilgrimages around the world, a widowed couple recently engaged who came to ask John Paul II’s blessing on their future marriage and two priests among the 42 pilgrims who joined a pilgrimage organized by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s three newspapers: Catholic New World, Katolik and Catolico.

“The beatification solidifies many people’s sense that we knew who he was. He was obviously a saint,” said Cardinal George during his meeting with media on April 30 in the North American College in Rome.

Asked if there was a special moment when he realized that John Paul II was a saint, the cardinal said, “It grew. He was a man of irony, which I think is strength. An ironic person is humble. He could make fun of himself and he saw you that way too. In that humility you realized that he was saying he was not the center of the world. The conviction that he was a saint grew slowly.”

The pilgrims from Chicago carried different motivations and intentions to Rome.

“My father died when I was very young, so I looked to John Paul II as a father,” said Maria Mokeno-Szafarczyk, from Queen of Martyrs Parish in Evergreen Park.

Like a good daughter, Mokeno-Szafarczyk followed her father. “I traveled alongside the pope to the places where he went,” she said. “I felt that he needed support.”

She was in Rome for the funeral, because that’s what daughters do. She came to the beatification for two reasons: She wanted closure so she could move her relationship with the blessed pope to a different level and for the pontifical blessing.

“I got what I wanted,” Mokeno- Szafarczyk said.

Before Doris Dahl from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Streamwood took off for Rome, she did what she usually does when going to any holy place.

“I sent e-mails and made phone calls to everybody I knew and I told them if they wanted any petitions I would be glad to carry them with me,” said Dahl.

Her luggage contained 70 sealed envelopes including one from a pastor. She carried them around to all the churches she visited on the pilgrimage. She even dragged them to the beatification ceremony, which she reached by walking and public transportation.

Finally, she left the petitions in Assisi, where the journey ended. There she asked the priests for constant prayer over them.

Coming for the beatification was much more than just watching the main ceremony. Urszula Polywka, stuck during the ceremony on an outdoor café chair, along with many others, with no access to any of the large screens available throughout the Eternal City, had no regrets.

“I wouldn’t be meeting wonderful people from Germany, Poland, Congo and I would have missed the boat,” said Polywka.

Not seeing or hearing the ceremony didn’t stop her and her husband George from praying.

“We prayed in English, German and Polish. So, heaven heard us in three languages at once,” said George Polywka.

Larry Kallembach from St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Park Ridge is convinced that it was not an accident for him to be in Rome just a week after he became Catholic. John Paul II helped him to understand the Catholic faith.

“Some time ago I told my wife, Trish, that as a celebration for being received by the church I want to go to Rome. All of a sudden the beatification trip came along and I thought, what better way to celebrate. God works in a mysterious way,” said Kallembach.

Father Jason Malave, pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish, 3601 N. Lavergne St., and Father Michael Goergen, associate pastor at the same parish, were among the many priests celebrating the ceremony on St. Peter’s Square.

“It was beautiful to be with my priest brothers from all around the world; I get the sense of solidarity among the priests,” said Malave.

While being in St. Peter’s Square, Malave had a Chicago moment.

“I saw Cardinal George; he didn’t see me. It was humbling to know that our cardinal was there,” said Malave. “What went through my mind was that in Chicago he is in charge, but here the Holy Father is in charge.”

While celebrating the Mass, Father Michael Goergen was amazed with the reaction of the crowds.

“The shouting was a testimonial for a special man. I was close to crying but everything happened so fast, I didn’t have the time,” he said. “I saw people tearing and I felt a little emotional too. I couldn’t help it.”