Sentimentally in Wadowice
When Benedict XVI, in the sunshine, was arriving in Wadowice the gathered people shouted with joy. They waved Vatican banners and there was a loud singing on the packed square and in the side streets. John Paul II would have said, 'Incredible screaming.'
They greeted two popes
The crowds that enthusiastically welcomed the Holy Father actually greeted two Popes. Since John Paul II, as one of the priests said just before the arrival of Benedict XVI, 'stands here in the window and looks at his town and his house.' When he ended the sun began shining. All people saw it as a sign that John Paul was really present with Pope Benedict XVI, with citizens of Wadowice and pilgrims who had been wondering what the new Pope was like.
Benedict XVI arrived at the market square in a car, not his papamobile vehicle. When he got out the pilgrims saw that he was smiling. They noticed his gesture of open hands, which meant his sincerity. They saw how glad he was. They began speaking 'our' Pope in an almost automatic way. They wanted to make him feel at home. The sign of welcome was the keys to the town which Ms Ewa Filipiak, the town mayor, handed to him. The people shouted 'Molto gracie', 'Benedicto' and 'Santo subito'.
In old Polish way
First Benedict XVI went to the basilica and visited the Museum of John Paul II. Prior to the entrance to the Church, the Pope was greeted with bread and salt by the town mayor, Ms. Ewa Filipiak, in accordance with the old Polish custom. Benedict XVI prayed before the altar of the Wadowice Basilica and then in front of the baptismal font at which Karol Wojtyla was christened.
In the home of John Paul II, currently his museum, the Holy Father was greeted by children dressed in traditional Krakow costumes. Sr Magdalena Strzelecka from the Congregation of the Sisters of Nazareth, the curator of the Museum, offered him a guided tour through the successive rooms of the house and showed him the collection. Benedict XVI offered the Museum a copy of picture of the Mother of God breastfeeding Baby Jesus, together with a special benediction for all who visit the home of John Paul II, 'All who visit the House where beloved Pope John Paul II was brought up and matured to holiness I wholeheartedly give my apostolic benediction'. He entered his signature in the Museum's commemorative book and he gave the sisters rosaries and pictures.
Meeting with the residents of Wadowice
On the way to the meeting with pilgrims the Holy Father went through 'a green gate', made of plants and decorated with flowers. On the wall of one of the houses, behind the white podium and the papal throne, there were: a portrait of John Paul II, motto of the pilgrimage 'Stand firm in your faith' and the inscription 'Here, in this town, in Wadowice, everything has begun'.
Benedict XVI was welcomed by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow. He said that the Pope's visit added to the history, which had begun here on 18 May 1920. He quoted the well-known words of Cardinal Ratzinger, spoken during John Paul II's funeral, 'We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that he sees us and blesses us.' Benedict XVI said that he could not leave out Wadowice as he made his pilgrimage to Poland - the place of the birth, childhood and youth of Karol Wojtyla as well as the place where his faith began and matured. He wanted to pray that John Paul II may soon be elevated to the glory of the altars and he wanted to thank for his pontificate. He recalled John Paul II's words about the baptismal font where he was baptized. He stressed that 'the way of an authentically Christian life equals faithfulness to the promises of holy Baptism.' He added that 'the watchword of this pilgrimage: "Stand firm in your faith", finds in this place its concrete dimension that can be expressed with the exhortation: "Stand firm in the observance of your baptismal promises." Benedict XVI underlined the fact the John Paul II's love for the Church was born precisely in the Wadowice parish, 'In it he experienced the sacramental life, evangelization and the formation of a mature faith.' He stressed that a characteristic of the faith and spirituality of John Paul II, which was united to that place, was his dedication to Mary. 'He himself remembered many times the deep attachment of the inhabitants of Wadowice to the local image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the custom of daily prayer in front of her by the school children.' The residents of Wadowice interrupted by applause his homily, which was completely devoted to John Paul II.
Solemnity and smell of cleanliness
The town prepared the meeting very well. On could see special decoration and could smell cleanliness. The grass was mown. Fences were decorated with ribbons. There were inscriptions over the streets 'Wadowice Septer Fidelis', 'Solidarnosc' and others. All windows and balconies were decorated with Polish and papal flags. There were portraits of Benedict XVI and often pictures of John Paul II in every window. All shops were closed. The whole town came to meet the Pope. People gathered in that one particular place. All people were dressed up, wearing colourful clothes. Fireman and policemen wore white shirts.
After the departure of Benedict XVI there were still festivities in the square. The young people were singing. The song 'The Barge' was coming over and over again. But they also sang 'Abba, Father' and other contemporary religious songs. International cameras filmed it.
Reporters praised perfect organization of the visit. There were no problems. Nobody needed help. It was calm. Undoubtedly, this part of the pilgrimage was most sentimental. Benedict XVI mentioned John Paul II most of the time, which aroused enthusiasm of all believers: youth, parish groups and guests.