WANT A POPE story? Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati has plenty.
Like that day her son's first-grade class had a private audience with the pope. Or the times she sneaked past the Swiss Guards to get a better look around the Vatican. Or the day she watched white smoke puff from the Sistine Chapel's chimney in 1978 and heard onlookers' gasps when Karol Jozef Wojtyla became the first non-Italian pope in four centuries.
This weekend, the devout Catholic will have another pope story: She's heading to Rome to watch Popes John Paul II (Wojtyla) and John XXIII become saints.
"I'm excited; it's a historic occasion," said Lloyd-Sgambati, a freelance journalist who will cover the event for WURD-900AM and who has marched as a palm bearer in papal processions.
Pope Francis will canonize his two papal predecessors Sunday in Rome, capping a week of Easter festivities that church officials estimated would draw 3 million faithful to the city.
John Paul II, who reigned from 1978 until he died in 2005, is celebrated for helping to end communist rule in his native Poland and all of Europe, as well as improving church relations with other religions.
Pope John XXIII, who served from 1958 until his 1963 death, was known as the "Good Pope." He is remembered for championing equality and convening the historic Second Vatican Council.
But it's something else that inspires Archbishop Stefan Soroka's admiration.
"Both were friends of the Ukrainian Catholic Church," said Soroka, who heads the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. He jetted to Rome yesterday to attend the canonization.
Pope John XXIII, with help from President John F. Kennedy, secured the 1963 release of Patriarch Josef Slipyj, who headed the then-underground Ukrainian Catholic Church, after 18 years of Soviet imprisonment, Soroka said. That pope also cooperated with world leaders to usher in the end of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Ukraine and other so-called captive nations, he added.
And Pope John Paul II made a historic visit to Ukraine in 2001 despite poor health. He also visited Philadelphia in 1979, stopping by the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in North Philadelphia where Soroka now works.
Soroka, who met Pope John Paul II several times, said the canonization has poignant timing.
"It's a beautiful time: This is a time we proclaim the resurrection of our Lord. To be recognized as saints right after Easter, wow, what a reinforcement of renewed life!"
Past papal events have drawn such crowds that the city closes the roads to motorists and people camp out for days for a prime place in the audience, Soroka and Lloyd-Sgambati said.
"Rome is just packed with pilgrims," Soroka said. "It's a good exercise regimen in the morning; you have to walk everywhere."
Lloyd-Sgambati married an Italian man, lived in Rome for 12 years and has revisited the country countless times since moving back to Philadelphia. She's well-acquainted with the fervor folks have in Italy for the Vatican's leaders.
She remembers being there when popular Pope Francis waded into a crowd recently.
"It was like a mosh pit - people were pushing and shoving [to get closer to him]," said Lloyd-Sgambati, who spoke with the Daily News from Marseille, France, where she was touring churches.
She's not worried she'll have to sleep in the streets to get a good view of the canonization.
"I have a lot of connections," she said slyly.