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Chicago reacts: Pope John Paul II ‘exuded goodness’

Pavel Firak manager Kurowski Sausage Shop Avondale holds up a
copy book about Pope John Paul II which his store sells

Pavel Firak, manager of Kurowski Sausage Shop in Avondale, holds up a copy of a book about Pope John Paul II, which his store sells from behind the meat counter. Sun-Times Photo by Kim Janssen.

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Updated: August 7, 2013 6:12AM

He’s beaming from the window of Kurowski Sausage Shop next to an Illinois Lottery sign.

His picture is on the candle flickering behind the bar at Regina and Joe’s Tap, where they serve a mean ice cold beer, as long as you ask for it in Polish — a “Zimne Piwo.”

And he’s offering prayers on the covers of a rack full of DVDs, beside the Polish soap operas, at the Toy and Gift Store a few doors down Milwaukee Avenue.

Almost everywhere you turn in the section of Avondale known as “Polish Village” — you spot the beatific face of Pope John Paul II.

So if there was pride Friday among Chicago-area Poles at the Vatican’s announcement that the Polish-born former pontiff is being fast-tracked for sainthood just eight years after he died, there was also an unspoken question.

What took so long?

“It’s a big deal, wonderful!” said Wesley Kosla, who was taking a break from watching the other big Polish story of the day — tennis player Jerzy Janowicz’s attempt to become the first Polish man to reach the Wimbledon final — to stock up on kielbasa.

“He did so much for the world, not just for Polish people and Catholics but to bring understanding between different religions,” Kosla, 54, said of John Paul II.

Kosla was among the huge crowd that packed Milwaukee Avenue to get glimpse of the former Karol Józef Wojtyła when he visited Chicago in 1979 — part of a fondly remembered two-day trip that drew hundreds of thousands of worshippers to Grant Park and put an international spotlight on the largest ethnic Polish community outside of Poland.

Still, many Polish-American Chicagoans said their love for John Paul II was more than jingoism. Elzbita Janas, 63, said she met John Paul II in San Francisco. Though she is not Catholic, she said she was moved by his “deep humanity” and that she has since seen the former pope in “visions” that convinced her of his sainthood.

Chicago church leaders shared similar experiences. Francis Cardinal George hailed the imminent canonization as one which “will encourage everyone to stay on the path of discipleship” in a statement posted on the Archdiocese of Chicago website.

And Graziano Marcheschi, the executive director for university ministry at Saint Xavier University, said he “had a sense that I was standing in the presence of holiness,” when he met John Paul II in 1988. “Everybody knew he was going to be a saint long before he died. He just exuded goodness.”

Contributing: Becky Schlikerman

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