WADOWICE, Poland — His death triggered a massive outpouring of grief in Poland. His beatification, an explosion of pride and jubilation. But days before John Paul II is to be declared a saint, many of his countrymen are greeting the landmark with little more than a shrug.
One reason is that John Paul has already long been a saint in Polish hearts — so making it official with Vatican pageantry is just a bit of icing on the cake. But it’s also clear that less than a decade since his death, the enthusiasm that Poles accord their great countryman seems to be dissipating, just as memories of him fade and a new generation comes of age in this young EU country that is moving toward a more secular outlook.
Only a few hundred people turned out in Warsaw’s main square for prayers before the pope’s relics on April 2, the ninth anniversary of his death. And there is little talk in Polish media of the April 27 saint-making ceremony at the Vatican. It all contrasts sharply with the pontiff’s 2011 beatification, which was preceded by months of media frenzy and church preparations across Poland.
“Who needs this canonization?” said Andrzej Grendys, stressing that he is Catholic but does not go to church. “We all know that he was a very good and decent man with a great heart and mind. That is most important and needs no official confirmation.”
And many say the country has already completed its emotional reckoning with John Paul’s life and death.
“We have discharged our emotions in spontaneous outpourings at John Paul’s beatification and death,” said Artur Sporniak of the Tygodnik Powszechny Catholic weekly. “That was a unique, mass experience of being a closely-knit community.”
Even in Rome, preparations for the canonization are much more subdued than when John Paul was beatified. The Vatican is expecting far fewer people than the 1.5 million who saw the beatification Mass, and church officials readily acknowledge that this will be a “Francis-style” ceremony: no frills and low-cost.
Much of Poland’s religious fervor is going into preparations for Easter, an important holiday in Poland, just days before the canonization. Moreover, some of the Church’s traditional appeal and authority were recently tarnished by reports of sex abuse of children by priests, some of whom have been indicted and handed prison terms. Feeling that burden — and apparently inspired by Francis — Poland’s church has adopted a low-key approach to the canonization.
John Paul’s death in 2005 brought millions of mourners, including some 1.5 million Poles, to the funeral in Rome. Six years later, huge crowds gathered again at the Vatican — and across Poland — to observe the beatification. But a similar exodus of Polish pilgrims is not expected for the canonization.
The economic crisis and high unemployment of some 13 percent has played a role in denting plans to travel to the saint-making ceremony.
“I think that people in Poland are now very much focused on the mundane, they are trying to make ends meet and that’s very challenging,” said Agnieszka Lelinska, an accountant in Warsaw.
John Paul’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI, bowed to calls at John Paul’s funeral of “Santo Subito” — Sainthood Now — and opened the process only weeks after the pontiff’s death, waiving the traditional five-year waiting period.
Pope Francis made a concession to Poles when he moved the Dec. 8, 2013 canonization date, to April 27, 2014 — after John Paul’s personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz warned that icy December roads in Poland could be dangerous for pilgrims traveling to Rome.
April 27 is Divine Mercy Sunday, a religious holiday established by John Paul II. He was beatified on the holiday in 2011.
Against the generally subdued mood, many Poles are still rejoicing in John Paul’s elevation. Some are marking the occasion by walking, running or biking to the Rome observances, which will be attended by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and his predecessors, Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski.
In Wadowice, Jacek Waga, who was arranging flower pots in honor of the canonization, said the pope — while Cardinal Karol Wojtyla — led his Catholic confirmation ceremony.
“It is an extraordinary thing for me that in my lifetime I met a man who will be declared a saint,” he said.
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