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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 April, 2005, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
'Poland is at the Pope's bedside'
By Dominic Bailey
BBC News, Krakow

Poland waits - as the rest of the of the world waits for news of the nation's favourite son.

In Krakow, where Pope John Paul II was once a priest and bishop, the town's many churches were open throughout the night for prayer vigils, and continued to draw hundreds of people on Saturday.

Catholic church in Krakow
Hundreds have turned to Krakow's Catholic churches
For such an unprecedented event, people wanted to be where they could find comfort and make their small contribution.

Television stations have rolled continuous coverage of the latest details from Rome - with sometimes confusing signals on the state of the Pope's health.

On radio stations, in between replays of the Pope's speeches during visits to Poland, tearful callers told how they were filled with emotion and held the Pope in their prayers.

The most popular newspaper on Saturday was Dziennik Polski, which let its front page speak for itself - no stories, just a picture of the Pope's face, with the opening words of the prayer Our Father.

If only in spirit, Poland is at the Pope's bedside in his hour of need.

'Best pope ever'

The mixed signals from the media and the eagerness of some to announce his death ahead of time has upset many, when feeling at their most vulnerable.

"I was angry with the media when they said he was dead," said Rafal, 17, an altar boy at the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska monastery outside Krakow, which has been popular with the Pope since his childhood.

Krakow people pay tribute to the Pope they called their own

"It hit me hard and I was upset and came here and found out that he was still alive."

He found strength in the words of guidance offered by the priest carrying out the Mass for the hundreds who had visited the 1609 monastery.

"We should not be crying for the Pope," he said. "We should be happy for him. He said he was happy, so we should be."

His fellow altar boy, Michal, 17, agreed.

"He was Pope for a long time and the best pope ever. A non-Polish pope will be very strange, I can't even think about it."

Thankful

They are also waiting in the Pope's home town of Wadowice.

A media circus of satellite dishes and camera crews hover outside the town's main church.

Altar boys outside Krakow, Poland
We should not be crying for the Pope - we should be happy for him
Rafal
Poland

Inside, the faithful kneel, and try to pray and think of the international leader they consider one of them - in between the flash of probing press cameras.

Sister Alma, at the Pope's family home-turned museum, said she felt special to be able to work in his house - which has had thousands of visitors over the last few days.

Local priest Jakub Gil said the Holy Father felt very attached to his hometown and the people are now expressing their love for him.

"Last week, at Easter, people came with baskets of gifts for the Church, now the people are coming with their hearts like a basket full of thanks for him for being with them, for guiding them.

"As he is dying he is not just the Pope, he is a friend and they feel it is their duty to come and say we are with you."

And the passing of Pope John Paul II, will it leave a hole for the people of Wadowice?

Father Jakub thinks not.

"People are like naughty children who, when their parents die, try to pay more attention to what they had said during their lives," he said.

"When they come out of church they are talking about him and the things he said and did.

"That is how to remember him."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the crowds gathered in Rome


Images from Krakow, where the Pope was once bishop



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