A handmade banner bearing the portrait of the late Pope John Paul II hangs above the counter at the Krakow Deli in Woonsocket, a gift Marta Samek received from her brother who brought it back from Poland 25 years ago.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” asked Samek who manages the family-owned deli along with another brother, Kristian Przybyko, and father, Józef.
That banner has been getting a lot of attention lately from the deli’s Polish-American customers ever since the Vatican announced last Friday that John Paul will be made a saint after Pope Francis approved a second miracle attributed to the Polish pontiff.
“This is great news not only for Polish Catholics, but all Catholics,” said Samek. “Pope John Paul was not only special to Catholics, but to people from all religious faiths and backgrounds.”
Worshippers at St. Joseph’s Church, a Polish-American Roman Catholic Church in Central Falls, also welcomed the news.
“We’re overwhelmed because this was the news we’ve been waiting for,” said the Rev. Dariusz J. Jonczyk, pastor at both St. Joseph’s Church and St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Woonsocket.
“John Paul II was one of the greatest popes because not only did he accomplish so much for the Church, he touched so many people around the globe because his message was so universal,” Jonczyk said. “So many people respected him, even those who did not agree with the church or its teachings.”
Jonczyk said both parishes held a special Mass on the occasion of John Paul’s beatification last year, and will do so again at his canonization ceremony later this year.
His progression to sainthood comes eight years after John Paul II's passing, and is the fastest in modern times. Then-Pope Benedict XVI put John Paul on the fast-track for possible sainthood when he dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the beatification process to begin weeks after his April 2, 2005 death.
Kristian Przybyko, owner of the Krakow Deli, Bakery and Smokehouse in Woonsocket and North Attleboro, thinks it should take much, much longer to become a saint.
“For me, personally, it happened a little too fast,” he says. “Usually, it takes much longer and I think the Church should stick to doing what it has been doing for the last 2000 years.”
Przybyko thinks doing it so soon takes away from the aura of the sainthood.
“John Paul II was a great man, but this is like instant gratification and kind of takes away from the whole process,” he said. “Still, there’s a lot of pride in this pope and it wasn’t any surprise it was put on the fast-track because he was so popular and so loved.”
The Rev. Christopher M. Mahar, rector of the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence, met John Paul twice, once in 2001 during his first summer as a seminarian in Rome, and the second when he was a deacon in 2004. He also attended many Papal Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica.
As a seminarian, Mahar lived and studied at Our Lady of Providence, while completing undergraduate studies at Providence College. After receiving a baccalaureate degree in 2000, he was assigned by Bishop Robert E. Mulvee to Rome and studied at the Gregorian University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology. He later pursued additional studies in moral theology at the Academia Alfonsiania before returning to Rhode Island.
“The Holy Father was very much filled with joy and had a sense of peace about him that was infectious,” Mahar said in describing his first encounter with the pontiff. “I managed to say to him, ‘Holy Father, God bless you,’ and he looked at me, and said, “No, God Bless you.”
The Vatican’s announcement Friday that John Paul will be declared a saint did not surprise Mahar in the least.
“I’m ecstatic, but not surprised because how can we forget the Holy Father’s funeral in Rome when the crowds were chanting ‘Santo Subito!’ which means ‘Sainthood Immediately,” he said. “St. John Paul II is something we’ve all been waiting to say.”
Mahar says the former Karol Józef Wojty³a will be remembered for many things. He was the first Polish pope and first non-Italian pope in 455 years; he canonized more saints than all he predecessors; and he held the third longest reign in the history of the papacy.
John Paul II also traveled extensively and was the first pope to travel to Canada.
“He was really the first intercontinental pope,” says Mahar, adding John Paul traveled to 129 different countries during his time as pope.
Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @jofitz7