WADOWICE, Poland – They came from all over Poland on Saturday – the faithful and the sorrowful – to pray for Pope John Paul II in his hometown church.
They had been crowding day and night into the basilica, the regular parishioners and visiting pilgrims alike, hoping to ease the pope’s suffering with their prayers.
But they knew what was coming, of course, and a tearful local woman said, “All of us in Wadowice will soon feel like orphans.”
Peter Czarnota, his head bowed in prayer outside the basilica, planned to use the wheelchair ramp later in the afternoon when the crowds inside thinned out. When he was paralyzed in a car accident three years ago, Czarnota thought his life was over.
“Inside, I felt nothing,” said the 23-year-old college student. “But soon after my accident, the pope came to Poland. I saw he was sick and suffering, and somehow that made me understand that I could work, too. He made me mentally stronger.”
Czarnota sat and prayed right where the future pope, little Karol Wojtyla, a rascal nicknamed Lolek, once raced through Wadowice’s narrow cobbled streets with his pals. He caught trout in the Skawa River, hiked the surrounding hills in the summer and skied the same hills in the winter.
Dagmara Yastrzembska works in a clothing shop in Wadowice, a rural town of 20,000, mostly farmers, traders and coal miners. But she couldn’t work, couldn’t concentrate, because she was glued to the shop radio listening for bulletins about the pope.
Finally, late Saturday afternoon, she grabbed her son David and they went to Mass.
“The Masses are always very emotional here,” said Yastrzembska, 30, wiping her eyes as she left the basilica. “It’s so sad now because we know the pope is suffering. We hope his death will end his pain.”
Yastrzembska was in primary school when Karol Wojtyla made his first return to his hometown as pope. At the time, she didn’t understand why all her teachers were crying over his arrival. It was, of course, the same reason she herself was crying Saturday.
“It was so emotional for them. Now I understand. Soon, all of us in Wadowice will feel like orphans.”