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Thursday, July 24, 2014, 12:44 p.m.
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Pilgrims amass in Poland to celebrate John Paul II

By The Associated Press

This article was published April 26, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.

— From distant Canada to small Polish towns, pilgrims were arriving Saturday in places linked to Pope John Paul II for concerts and prayers held on the eve of him being declared a saint.

Thousands were crowding into the narrow downtown streets of Krakow, where Karol Wojtyla served as priest and bishop for more than 30 years before being chosen pope and taking the name of John Paul II.

Giant screens were put up for the crowd to watch live on Sunday the unprecedented Vatican ceremony in which Pope Francis, aided by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, will declare as saint two 20th century popes: John Paul and John XXIII.

"This is a great event for us Poles, because our countryman will be honored before the entire world," said Jadwiga Grzelak, who travelled five hours with a parish group from Lututow, in central Poland, for the observances.

Pilgrims were also arriving in John Paul's southern hometown of Wadowice, now festively decorated in white-and-red national flags and in papal colors of yellow and white, and with the much-loved pontiff's portraits in some windows.

Two stages have been put up in the square in front of the house where Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920, and in front of the neighboring basilica, where he was baptized. Concerts were planned Sunday in thanks for the elevation of one of the greatest figures in Poland ever.

"I think sometimes Poland does not get that much recognition, so everything about Pope John Paul is important for this country," said Sara Szpila of Vancouver, Canada.

John Paul remains special to his countrymen for having inspired the ouster of communism from Poland, for his support for the Solidarity freedom movement that peacefully achieved that in 1989, and for the pontiff's teaching centered on human rights and dignity.

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