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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 April 2006, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Reflections on John Paul one year on
John Paul II died a year ago on Sunday. The BBC's Peter Gould, who reported on the final days of the Polish pope, reflects on his legacy.


One year on from his death, John Paul II is still very much in the hearts and minds of the Catholic faithful.

The Polish-born pontiff is considered by many in the Church to be one of the greatest popes of modern times.

Pope John Paul lying in state
Pope John Paul II: Still in the hearts and minds of the faithful
Within weeks of his death, he had been placed on the fast track to sainthood, a process that once took decades or even centuries.

His successor, Pope Benedict, has waived the Vatican rule that calls for a delay of at least five years before any case can be considered. And the internet is now being used to help gather the necessary evidence.

The Polish cleric appointed to prepare the case has been inundated with e-mails from people wanting to testify to the late pope's holiness. A number of miracles have also been reported since his death.

Beatification, the first step on the road to sainthood, requires proof of one miracle that can be attributed to the late pope. A second is needed before the final stage of canonisation.

Pilgrims flock

While many Catholics are still finding it difficult to adjust to life without John Paul II, the Church has moved on, and subtle changes are under way.

Pope Benedict is making his own decisions, and doing things his way. The Vatican bureaucracy is being restructured, and there are signs that the new pontiff is ready to take a slightly different line on sensitive issues, such as relations with Islam.

Crowds wait to see Pope John Paul lying in state
Pilgrims flooded in, from Poland and elsewhere
When John Paul II died on 2 April last year, there was sadness rather than grief. It was seen as a merciful release after his years of suffering.

But nobody, not even the Vatican, was quite prepared for what happened in the days that followed.

Within hours of the news, pilgrims from the Pope's homeland were making the journey across Europe. From Poland, they came by bus and train, by car and plane.

When they arrived in Rome, carrying their red and white flags and singing religious songs, it was like watching an invading army.

Across the bridges of the River Tiber, the columns slowly advanced on the Vatican and St Peter's Basilica. After many hours in line, the faithful had just a few seconds to pay their respects as they filed past the body of their pope.

But it was not just the Poles. I met pilgrims from all over the globe, travel-weary but just glad to be there, to witness a moment of history.

Technology aids

"We had to come," people told me, time and again. They felt a connection with this pope, perhaps because he had visited so many of their own countries.

In an age of low-cost mass transport, many Catholics were no longer content to just sit at home and watch the ceremonies unfold on TV. They wanted to be there and be a part of it.

Advances in technology brought other changes. In the past, news of a papal death was broken by Vatican Radio, followed by the solemn tolling of bells.

The saturation coverage by the media was proof that John Paul II was more than just the spiritual leader of one billion Catholics

Last year, the bells were rung again, but the Vatican informed the waiting media on their mobile phones, sending messages by text.

This was the first papal death to take place in the age of live global news. Against the backdrop of St Peter's Basilica, lines of correspondents faced banks of TV cameras.

Religious pundits were much in demand; finding one wearing a clerical collar was a bonus. To lure a cardinal in front of a microphone was regarded as a broadcasting triumph.

It may not always have been done in the best possible taste, but the Vatican must have taken satisfaction from the knowledge that so many broadcasters from the secular world were devoting so much airtime to a religious story.

Nobody can deny that the Polish Pope left a substantial legacy to his Church. He was uncompromising in his defence of traditional values on contentious moral issues such as homosexuality, divorce and abortion. There was no wavering in the Vatican's position on the celibacy of the priesthood or the role of women in the Church.

But the saturation coverage by the media was proof that John Paul II was more than just the spiritual leader of one billion Catholics.

This was the pope from Eastern Europe who helped bring down the walls of Communism. As he circled the globe, he spoke out against poverty and injustice. He tried to be the conscience of the world, calling for peace in the face of violence, and taking a stand against the war in Iraq.

Whatever people thought of his views, he was not someone who could be ignored easily. Such was his stature that a succession of politicians felt obliged to visit him at the Vatican, and listen to his strictures.

One year on, Pope Benedict has the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of a man already regarded by many Catholics as a saint.


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