Pope urges quick sainthood for predecessor


KRAKOW, Poland -- "I am still alive," Pope John Paul II, then 79 and already ill for years, mused on his last trip to his hometown in 1999. Yesterday, his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, suggested again that Poland's favorite son would live on as a saint, telling pilgrims at a shrine that he hoped it would happen soon.

The new pope's impromptu remarks drew wild applause from about 15,000 people - some holding signs saying, "Sainthood now!" - who had gathered to see Benedict on the third day of a pilgrimage to the places that shaped the life of Pope John Paul, who died in April 2005.

Pope Benedict showed no sign of exercising his right as pope to proclaim his predecessor a saint immediately, though he has waived the usual five-year waiting period after death.

But in speaking with such emotion and certainty, the pontiff seemed to cut a quick path to Poles' hearts, in a trip both "sentimental," as he called it, and strategic in its appeal for this Roman Catholic country not to dilute its faith as it becomes richer.

Yesterday morning, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, for decades Pope John Paul's assistant, now the archbishop of Krakow, greeted Benedict on a trip to Pope John Paul's hometown, Wadowice, where on his final trip home, in 1999, the late pontiff allowed himself a flood of public memories:

"In this town everything started," he said at the time. "Life started. School started, my studies." He paused, then continued: "My priesthood started."

Before a large and cheering crowd on the central square, Pope Benedict visited two landmarks: He went to his predecessor's old church, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, then crossed a street to see the house where Karol Wojtyla was born.

"I wished to stop precisely here, in the place where his faith began and matured, to pray together with all of you that he may soon be elevated to the glory of the altars," Pope Benedict told the crowd, using less direct language about the possibility of sainthood than he did a little later.

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