New Orleanians remember Pope John Paul II - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

New Orleanians remember Pope John Paul II; on verge of canonization

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New Orleans, La - It's official, a former pope with strong ties to New Orleans Catholics will become a saint.

New Orleanians are remembering the late Pope John Paul II with fondness, and say it's a reward that's richly deserved.

He was known as the people's pope, and nowhere was that more evident than in New Orleans. Pope John Paul II spent three days in the city in 1987, and many say it was a visit they will never forget.

He was a former pope, soon to become a saint, who touched the lives of hundreds of thousands, many in New Orleans.

"He went and touched people's heads. I happened to be one he touched on the head and blessed me," said Ann Milling.

Milling found herself squarely in the middle of one of the biggest events to ever occur in New Orleans.

"I was there from the moment he arrived until the moment he left. I was there the whole time."

John Paul conducted a large mass at UNO, with musician Pete Fountain playing spirituals.

An exhibit now at the New Orleans Museum of Art highlights the 1987 visit. The former pope traveled more than any other, spreading the gospel to 129 countries during his 27-year papacy.

Father James Wehner knew the former pope and recalled his survival of a 1981 assassination attempt.

"After he was strong enough, he went to the prison. The shooter asked to be forgiven, and he gave that forgiveness," says Wehner.

John Paul II was also the first non-Italian pope in nearly 500 years, and may have helped tear down the iron curtain by advocating for an end to communist rule in his native Poland; a movement which eventually spread across Europe and Asia.

"When he became pope he said don't be afraid, I'm going to take the church into every sphere," said Wehner.

To become a saint, the church has attributed two miracles to John Paul II. In one case, they say a french woman was cured of cancer. Another case involved a woman in Central America.

"When he was being beautified, a woman in Costa Rica had an aneurysm healed. Doctors couldn't understand it," said Rev. Wehner.

With sainthood assured, canonization will likely take place at the Vatican, at the end of the year.

John Paul II will be the first pope to be canonized in 50 years. The church has also announced the upcoming canonization of another pope, Pope John XXIII, for reforming the catholic mass in the 1960's.

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