By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Reporter | Published May 1, 2014
ATLANTA—Hundreds of believers filled the sanctuary of St. Marguerite d’Youville Church, Lawrenceville, celebrating as Pope Francis proclaimed Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII to be saints.
The ministry of the Polish Catholic community in the Atlanta Archdiocese drew the faithful to this Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday where prayers were recited in Polish and English.
St. John Paul II “is a Polish man, but many, many people know him, love him. He is like a father for all people,” said Father Piotr Nowacki, a member of the Society of Christ Fathers religious congregation, which serves the Polish immigrant community.
A Polish festival followed the special Mass, where the altar was decorated with Easter lilies and red and white flowers, the colors of the Polish flag. Photos of St. John Paul, along with other religious icons adorned the sanctuary. Bishop Luis R. Zarama spent time with the community, which hosted a festival with traditional food and music. Organizers printed T-shirts to commemorate the day.
The apostolate is named for St. John Paul II and was honored to receive in 2011 a first-class relic of the pope as a gift for the apostolate.
Father Nowacki said watching the events unfold in Rome made him feel proud of his country.
“I had something in my eye,” he said about the emotions and tears that filled his eyes.
St. John Paul is beloved by many, but especially his fellow Poles. There are some 2,402 native-born Poles in metro Atlanta, while another 43,000 people trace their family tree to the Eastern European country, estimated the 2012 American Community Survey.
In Rome, the April 27 canonizations of Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII drew believers “from the four corners of the globe.” And among the throngs crowding St. Peter’s Square and the surrounding area of the Vatican was Atlanta seminarian Rev. Mr. Matthew Dalrymple, who is studying there.
“What I saw was what being in Rome is all about: the universal Church gathered from the four corners of the globe, united in the same faith, the same sacraments, and under Peter our head, who is Francis,” said Rev. Mr. Dalrymple, who is expected to be ordained a priest in June.
He attended the outdoor Mass and stood next to a family from Spain.
He said he was struck by how the sun shone through the clouds at two points during the Mass “which seemed to suggest that the heavens were giving us a visible confirmation!”
And despite people being uncomfortable and crowds staying out on the street overnight to save their spot, Rev. Mr. Dalrymple said people comforted each other. He saw a woman overcome from the heat. People helped her. “That’s what Christians do: charity,” he said.
“(Jesus) shows us the path so that we too might be ‘canonizable’ saints one day, like John Paul II and John XXIII, in the midst of our ordinary circumstances of life, in our families, social situation and workplaces, for that is the will of God for us, our sanctification,” he said in an email.
Father Luke Ballman, who is formation director at the North American College in Rome, said his life as a priest is tied up with the new saint.
“I cannot separate my vocation from the papacy of St. John Paul II. There were many ways in which he contributed to my vocation. His priestly example of service, joy, and love inspired me while I was discerning my vocation,” said Father Ballman, a priest of the Atlanta Archdiocese.
“The saint’s message to us from the beginning of his papacy was, ‘Be not afraid!’ He continues to encourage all of us to resist the temptation to fear in the face of overwhelming odds,” he said.
Mountain Butorac spent overnight out on Rome streets, along with crowds jamming streets leading to St. Peter’s Basilica. Butorac is a tour guide and had nearly a dozen visitors with him, holding hands to wade through the crowds. Overall, he limited the tour group to 32, although the interest in being in Rome for the event was so high it could have been many more.
He saw the global interest in the event transform the area. But people did not forget the reason they were there.
“As with any large gathering, there was plenty of pushing and shoving. But for the most part, it was a very Christian experience. People helped each other when they fell. People would take turns napping, since space was a premium. And people were chanting and signing all night. Hymns in various languages, but a tune all could recognize,” he said.
Butorac lived in Douglasville before he and his family in January moved to Rome. He runs The Catholic Traveler, a Catholic tour business.
“I have people who were converted because of John Paul II. They love him. A few people are also fans of John XXIII and remember fondly his pontificate,” he said. “The people want to witness history and to be a part of one of the biggest Catholic parties in history.”
“Some of these people were at the funeral of John Paul II, some were at the beatification, two have met him,” he said. “So for them, this makes the canonization that much more powerful.”