Pilgrims start arriving in Rome ahead of double canonization

First of 20 charter flights from Europe, Mideast lands

Pilgrims start arriving in Rome ahead of double canonization

Fiumicino, April 24 - The first charter flight from Poland taking Catholic pilgrims to Rome for the double canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II landed at Fiumicino airport on Thursday. Some 20 charter flights, in addition to regular flights, will be carrying pilgrims from all over Europe and the Middle East to the Italian capital to attend the canonization ceremony Sunday in St. Peter's Square of two of the most popular pontiffs of the 20th century. The 90 Polish pilgrims who landed in Rome on Thursday morning, carrying national flags and wearing scarves with the papal insignia, included families and children from Krakow, Pavianice and Lodz who want to pay tribute to Polish-born Pope John Paul II when he becomes saint. "We carry great joy in our hearts, John Paul II still lives in our hearts", said Dagmaria Stepen, a pilgrim from Pavianice, of the third longest-serving pontiff in history. Special flights are also scheduled to land at Fiumicino from Thursday until Saturday from elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East. On Thursday morning 155 Lebanese pilgrims arrived with a charter flight from Beirut. "I am happy to be in Rome for the canonization", said Father Elie Khneisser, who leads a group of pilgrims from Zahle, a town close to Beirut. "I was 24 years old in 1997 when I met Pope Karol Wojtyla with other youths: from then on my vocation as a priest has become stronger". Other charter flights are planned to arrive on Thursday from Lyon and Lisbon while on Friday special flights will be carrying pilgrims to Rome from Porto, Gdansk, Madrid, Lisbon, Warsaw, Pamplona, Krakow and Brazzaville. Vatican radio will provide special hourly bulletins, also in Polish, on bus and railway connections in Rome and the Lazio region to pilgrims. A large screen will be set up at Fiumicino airport's Terminal 3 so that travelers and ground personnel will be able to watch the canonization ceremony live.

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