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SW Side parish celebrates Pope John Paul II’s march to sainthood

Pope John Paul II celebrates mass Five Holy Martyrs Church BrightPark neighborhood during his 1979 visit Chicago. Sun-Times File Photo.

Pope John Paul II celebrates mass at Five Holy Martyrs Church in the Brighton Park neighborhood during his 1979 visit to Chicago. Sun-Times File Photo.

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Updated: August 9, 2013 12:38PM

Evelyn Orzel, 85, prays to the late Pope John Paul II every time she goes to Five Holy Martyrs Church on the Southwest Side.

“I pray to him to make me strong because I’ve been a caretaker for my mother, for my husband, for my kids, for my 90-year-old brother,” she said, adding that she expects to meet him when she dies. “When I meet him, I’ll talk to him in Polish,” she said after Sunday’s Polish-language Mass.

Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, will be declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican announced Friday. It is not known yet when the canonization ceremony will take place.

The first pope from Poland, John Paul II holds a special place in the hearts of Chicago’s large Polish community, many of whom still remember his visit to Chicago in 1979.

“It was awesome,” said Orzel, who said she got a piece of the carpet he walked on as memorabilia from his visit. “It was a great honor and he was a great man.”

The church, located on Richmond Avenue and 43rd — Honorary “Pope John Paul II Drive” — has a statue of the late pope on the altar. In the entrance area, a large photo of the late pope hangs in a window and there’s a plaque commemorating his 1979 visit.

Parishioner Zofia Bystrek, who has been attending the Brighton Park church for almost 20 years, said before Sunday’s 11 a.m. mass that the church has been holding meetings on the first Sunday of every month to honor the late pope. She said the meetings started when he was declared “blessed” by the Roman Catholic Church.

That was 2011, when the pope was beatified. Beatification is the Catholic church’s recognition that a person in heaven can help people who pray to them, a part of the process of becoming a saint.

Bystrek said she saw the Pope when he visited her town, Tarnow, South Poland, in the 1980s.

“When I saw him from the distance on the altar, believe me, it was something,” she said, “I felt chills in my body. It was something unusual, something beautiful.”

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