By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When preparing for two canonizations that draw nearly 1 million people to Rome, people usually pack essentials like food, water, raingear and sunhats.
But like any real pilgrimage, the most important supplies end up being plenty of patience and perseverance, many pilgrims said.
Groups from the United States and other countries dealt with the fatigue of time zone changes and crowds. But many came to the April 27 canonizations of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II not for comfort, but to give thanks for the spiritual inspiration and intercession of the two popes.
Pamela Pechanec of Topeka, Kan., and Frances Mercado of Oceanside, Calif., told Catholic News Service they credit the two new saints for miracles they’ve experienced in their lives.
Pechanec, who came with a group of 88 people from Pittsburgh, Pa., said that a rosary blessed by St. John Paul specifically for patients suffering from terminal gunshot wounds saved the life of her son’s best friend. Both young men had been shot in the head, execution-style, during a presumed robbery on the streets of Cleveland in 2009.
Her son, Jeremy, died from the shooting, but his friend, Jory Aebly, fully recovered, despite doctors saying he would never make it.
“I believe in divine intervention. I saw both boys in the hospital and I’m a nurse. I don’t know how Jory survived,” she said.
Pechanec said she saw St. John Paul at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993.
“I got close enough that he said, ‘Hello,'” she said. There was something about the way he looked at her “that I’ll never forget. He had that aura, you could see it.”
“You could feel something so strong when he spoke, that frail man and then that voice that came out,” she recalled.
Mercado attributed the survival of her premature great-grandson to the medals and prayer cards of St. John XXIII they kept in the baby’s incubator.
She also said a family friend who was in a coma and dying sat up and lived for four more days after Mercado placed a rosary on her chest and prayed to St. John “to just let her wake up long enough to say goodbye” to her husband and sons at her bedside.
Mercado came with a group of 52 people from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to be “here in Rome to thank both popes” for helping the people in her life, she said.
Leslie Berenger of Los Angeles said, “I kicked myself for not being here for the funeral” of St. John Paul in 2005.
By enduring his suffering and illness before the world, St. John Paul showed others how to follow God’s will “to the end and to see how my pain is miniscule in comparison to others,” she said.
She credits the Polish pope with showing her “that God loves me and believes in me.”
She said that with all the mistakes she has made in life, God “could have said, ‘Enough with you.’ But he kept reeling me back in, saying, ‘You’ll learn to let go one of these days,'” and listen to his plan.
“I’m continuing to learn what’s important in life: God comes first and everything else is second” — a lesson, she said, the California pilgrims had to come to terms with on their journey with its unexpected inconveniences. She said she told her group: “God has us here for a reason. It’s to learn patience and perseverance.”
Francesco Locatelli exercised his patient resolve when he walked nearly 400 miles to Rome from his northern Italian hometown of Sotto Il Monte, the birthplace of St. John XXIII.
Sporting blisters and a pair of split sneakers, Locatelli said the 27-day journey was worth every painful step because “dedicating one month of my life is nothing compared to what these two popes have done.”
For Locatelli and many from Sotto Il Monte, St. John always felt like part of the family. “He comes from the same place I come from. I’m a farmer, too, (like the pope’s father was) and we grew up on top of the same land.”
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore was one of many U.S. bishops in Rome for the canonizations. He told CNS that both pope-saints inspired him in different ways.
He said St. John “had a lot to do with my openness to becoming a priest” while St. John Paul taught him “there are no shortcuts.”
“If I want to be halfway decent as a priest or a bishop, I have to pray, I have to run what I am going to do and what I am going to say through the prism of my prayer,” the archbishop said.
Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson of the U.S.-based Knights of Columbus told CNS that the two new saints represent “two very dynamic individuals, very different personalities.”
However, they both were “people who were confident in their discipleship to make dramatic witness of the power of the spirit working in the church during our time, one by convening (the Second Vatican Council) and the other by living and teaching authoritatively on the meaning of the council.”
“I think that this is a celebration of the church that the council envisioned: a church that is evangelical, a church that is reaching to the periphery, that recognizes no boundary, a church that has called itself universal for centuries but is now fully committed to being global, a church that is willing to walk with every person regardless of the state of life in which that person finds himself or herself.”
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Contributing to this story were Cindy Wooden and Francis X. Rocca at the Vatican.
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