The people of Poland consider their native-son pontiff not just John Paul II the Great, but a saint, said Archbishop Joseph Michalik of the Archdiocese of Prsemysl in Poland.
Bestowing the title of "the Great" upon Pope John Paul II has been mentioned in Vatican circles since the pontiff's death Saturday at the age of 84.
Michalik, who arrived in Rome on Wednesday, went a step further, suggesting the Catholic Church might someday explore the process of making a saint of the most prolific saint-maker in church history.
"People, they know about the greatness of the Holy Father, and they say even more that he is saint," Michalik said on Thursday, with the help of an interpreter.
Michalik was staying in Rome with the Felician Sisters, in the same room the pope sometimes stayed in during his time as Polish Archbishop Karol Wojtyla. He granted The Buffalo News and Channel 7 News a brief interview Thursday.
Michalik was a friend of the pope who, during visits to Rome, often was invited for meals at the papal apartments.
They last visited March 5, the archbishop said. By then, the pontiff was seriously ill, and Michalik came on behalf of all of the bishops of Poland to wish him well and give him their blessings and thanks.
"Although the Holy Father was not supposed to speak, the few words he said were about his trust and faith in God," Michalik said through the interpreter, Sister Marta Zeilinska.
Michalik asked for a papal blessing for himself, for all of Poland and for the church's evangelization efforts throughout the world.
"I stressed that we are very close to him in his sickness. I knelt in front of him and he blessed me," he said. The meeting lasted about 15 minutes.
Hundreds of thousands of Poles were expected in Italy this week for the papal wake and today's funeral.
"They are a sign of how beloved the pope was," Michalik said. "And I think this is connected with our faith in the Resurrection."