STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. -- In what many Catholics believe was a once-in-a-lifetime event on Sunday, more than 24,000 pilgrims walked, drove or were bussed to Eden Hill to celebrate the co-canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII at the annual Divine Mercy Sunday celebration at Eden Hill.
The actual canonization ceremony was held earlier Sunday at the Vatican in Rome.
"In Blessed John XXIII, we find a man, who, through his compassionate approach to others, literally changed the world’s perception of the church," said Msgr. Jim Lisante, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park, N.Y. Lisante was the homilist of Sunday’s celebration.
"He possessed a humility that allowed people, powerful and less so, to lay down their defenses and begin to act as true brothers and sisters to one another," said Lisante.
Of John Paul II, Lisante said that while he survived Nazism and later Communism, the faith and power of compassion of Divine Mercy was severely tested.
"John Paul had to make a determined choice," said Lisante. "Do we give in to hatred, hard-heartedness and an unwillingness to forgive? Or does a faith rooted in Divine Mercy not compel us to embrace love above all? And with love, forgiveness and mercy."
"Two amazing men of the Church, celebrated and canonized this day," he concluded. "Both reflections of the Divine Mercy, Jesus of Nazareth."
With the dual canonizations on Sunday, Marian officials expected a large crowd. More than 245 busses packed the parking lot, according to Robin Parow, chief communications officer for the Marians.
Traffic reached its peak between 10 and 11:30 a.m., with busses and cars slowly entering the Eden Hill complex from Pine Street, brake lights blinking every few seconds.
And, as usual, the busses were from all over the East Coast, from New England to Florida. In all, there were more than 300, said Parow.
"I was walking up to the Shrine," reported the Rev. Patrick McGee, a Franciscan monk from the Order of Our Lady of Holy Family of Patterson, N.J. "It was like being at the United Nations. I was on a mission in Zambia, and today reminded me of that."
"This amazing event, yes," said Aiden Marquiset, a Dominican from Delaware attending the event with his two sons. "Two popes canonized. We had to come and be a part of it."
By 10:30 a.m., lines to the Confessional tent were close to a quarter-mile long. In fact, it was a wait for everyone, whether they wanted to go to Confession, to go to the bathroom, buy a tee shirt, or buy a soda at the concession stand, run by the Marketplace of Sheffield.
Early afternoon entertainment was provided by a host of local Christian musicians, including Tanny Labshare and Jessica Roemischer, of Stockbridge, Candy Morley, of Lenox, Ron Ramsey, of Pittsfield, and Mary Verdi, of Dalton.
"We’re so well-known, that we can recruit some of the best Christian musicians from around the country," said Parow.
The crowd was packed tightly in front of the Shrine altar. An intermittent rain made the grass slightly slick, so that one had to step carefully trying to get through the crowd.
Police reported no major incidents throughout the event.