Pope John Paul II: South Siders remember a saint in the making - FOX 32 News Chicago

Pope John Paul II: South Siders remember a saint in the making

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Marion Valle once drove then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla across our city.

“He asked me to drive to a poor neighborhood. He wanted to see how the poor people lived in Chicago,” Valle recalls.

Valle is one of many Chicagoans who met a man Roman Catholics next weekend will celebrate as a saint. Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will both be canonized, but Chicago forged a special bond with John Paul, both before and after he took the throne of St. Peter.

The Polish Pope visited three times and was grateful for the generosity of Chicago Catholics. Their financial support helped keep the Church in Poland alive and eventually helped overcome Soviet communism.

There's already a statue of Saint John Paul II near the altar at Five Holy Martyrs. The parish school now bears his name; 43rd Street, too, where it traverses the Brighton Park neighborhood. The neighborhood's no longer as heavily Polish as it was when Karol Wojtyla strolled the streets and slept at the rectory here in the 1960s and 1970s. But the memories remain powerful.

Angela Bartoszek first met the future Pope in 1969, when she was a Saturday morning religion and Polish-language teacher at Five Holy Martyrs. At another time, he blessed her and gave her these Rosary beads, which she now uses to pray for his heavenly intercession.

“I am so privileged to have a chance to meet him so many times, to be recognized by him, to be touched by him,” Bartoszek says through tears. “You feel that you have somebody who is helping you to get graces from God. And in difficult time, we pray, I pray. I ask him for protection and for help.”

Marion Valle was the future saint's driver during his first visit to Chicago in 1969, then-Bishop Wojtyla asked to see the impoverished West Side, where riots the year before had burned out dozens of square blocks.

"He didn't say anything," Valle remembers of driving him through the West Side. "He was just looking out the window. I could see that he, through the rearview mirror I could see that he was looking intently at how people lived in Chicago, especially in the poor neighborhoods."

He was also trying desperately to improve his English.

"That was the last thing he said to me, 'How is my English?' Because he was talking to me in English," Valle recalls. "And I said, 'Your Excellency, very good.'"

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