CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG
Pilgrims sing on the road leading to St. Peter's Square April 26, the day before the canonizations of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II.
VATICAN CITY – When preparing for two canonizations that draw nearly one million people to Rome, people usually pack essentials like food, water, raingear and sun hats.
But like any real pilgrimage, the most important supplies end up being plenty of patience and perseverance, many pilgrims said.
Many came to the April 27 canonizations of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II not for comfort, but to give thanks for the spiritual inspiration and intercession of the two popes.
Pamela Pechanec of Topeka, Kan., and Frances Mercado of Oceanside, Calif., told Catholic News Service they credit the two new saints for miracles they've experienced in their lives.
Pechanec said a rosary blessed by St. John Paul specifically for patients suffering from terminal gunshot wounds saved the life of her son's best friend. Both young men had been shot in the head, execution-style, during a presumed robbery on the streets of Cleveland in 2009.
Her son, Jeremy, died from the shooting, but his friend, Jory Aebly, fully recovered, despite doctors saying he would never make it.
"I believe in divine intervention. I saw both boys in the hospital and I'm a nurse. I don't know how Jory survived," she said.
Pechanec said she saw St. John Paul at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993.
"I got close enough that he said, 'Hello,'" she said. There was something about the way he looked at her "that I'll never forget. He had that aura, you could see it."
Mercado attributed the survival of her premature great-grandson to the medals and prayer cards of St. John XXIII they kept in the baby's incubator.
She also said a family friend who was in a coma and dying sat up and lived for four more days after Mercado placed a rosary on her chest and prayed to St. John "to just let her wake up long enough to say goodbye" to her husband and sons.
Leslie Berenger of Los Angeles said by enduring his suffering and illness before the world, St. John Paul showed others how to follow God's will "to the end and to see how my pain is miniscule in comparison to others."
"I'm continuing to learn what's important in life: God comes first and everything else is second" – a lesson, she said, the California pilgrims had to come to terms with on their journey with its unexpected inconveniences.
Berenger said she told her group: "God has us here for a reason. It's to learn patience and perseverance."
Francesco Locatelli exercised his patient resolve when he walked nearly 650 km to Rome from his northern Italian hometown of Sotto Il Monte, the birthplace of St. John XXIII.
Sporting blisters and a pair of split sneakers, Locatelli said the 27-day journey was worth every painful step because "dedicating one month of my life is nothing compared to what these two popes have done."
For Locatelli and many from Sotto Il Monte, St. John always felt like part of the family. "He comes from the same place I come from. I'm a farmer, too, (like the pope's father was) and we grew up on top of the same land."