VATICAN CITY – Pope John Paul II was remembered on the first anniversary of his death Sunday as an advocate for the poor who helped fell communism, with Catholics from Mexico City to his native Poland praising his legacy and calling for his beatification.
Pope Benedict XVI recalled his predecessor’s final days of suffering, before an evening vigil that was expected to draw at least 100,000 people to St. Peter’s Square.
“John Paul II died as he always lived, animated by the indomitable courage of faith, abandoning himself to God and entrusting himself to holy Mary,” Benedict said in his weekly Sunday noontime address.
Polish Roman Catholics filled churches Sunday and voiced hopes for a quick beatification of their beloved native son.
In Krakow, thousands gathered with candles and flowers at the Archbishop’s Palace to await the exact time of John Paul’s death – 9:37 p.m. – when Benedict’s prayers will be broadcast live.
The mood was solemn but more hopeful than a year ago, when people fell to their knees and wept openly at news of John Paul’s death.
“We were depressed then, but today we rejoice in his sainthood even though it has not been officially announced,” said Krystyna Samborska, 32, a nurse from Krakow.
Thousands of believers flocked to John Paul’s hometown of nearby Wadowice, where an open-air Mass in the town at noon drew an estimated 8,000 people.
“We came to pray for his quick beatification and also to pray to him to protect our family,” said Wojciech Gladysz, 33, a gardener who traveled 220 miles from Warsaw with his wife and three children.
Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics filled Mexico City’s Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the most important Catholic shrine in the Americas.
Many of the faithful used mirrors to reflect the morning sun to the heavens as a way of sending the late pope their love. Others carried framed photographs covered in ribbons. One group held a banner reading “Juan Pablo II, God’s athlete.”
John Paul visited Mexico five times and was received by wildly enthusiastic crowds each time. He called the country “Mexico, ever faithful.”
At a morning Mass in Lagiewniki, Poland, near Krakow, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul’s longtime personal secretary, delivered a homily dedicated to John Paul’s swift beatification and sainthood.
“He contributed to the fundamental transformation of the world,” said Dziwisz, now the archbishop of Krakow.
Poles credit John Paul with inspiring the pro-democracy Solidarity movement in the 1980s, which sparked protests that helped bring down the communist regime in 1989.
At the Vatican, Benedict reminded the crowd how John Paul could not speak when he tried to deliver his Easter blessing at the end of his life, managing only to bless the crowd weakly with his hand.
“It was the most pained and moving blessing, which left us with the utmost evidence of his will to complete his ministry until the end,” Benedict said.
During the noontime prayer, Benedict said John Paul would be remembered for one of his first messages, delivered in St. Peter’s on Oct. 22, 1978, days after he was elected pope.
“Open, indeed, throw open wide the doors to Christ!” John Paul told the faithful.
Benedict said that appeal had embodied John Paul’s 26-year pontificate.
“In the final years, the Lord gradually stripped him of everything,” Benedict said. “And when he could no longer travel, and then could no longer walk, and finally could no longer speak, his announcement was reduced to the essential: the gift of himself until the very end.”