In groups, in pairs, and alone, the faithful began streaming into St. Adalbert's Church on Allegheny Avenue in Port Richmond well before the start of the packed 2 p.m. prayer service on Sunday celebrating the canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.

And no wonder. For this largely Polish American congregation of about 1,300 families near I-95, John Paul II, in particular, has special meaning.

"This is wonderful," said Bozena Kitlas, who came to the church from Voorhees with her daughter, Olivia, 12.

"We are so proud of our pope," she said. "That's why we came to celebrate here. We can't be in Rome with the millions who are there, so we come here. He's a wonderful person. He did so much."

Archbishop Stefan Soroka, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, was able to be at the canonization ceremonies with the millions in Rome. He was seated on the podium almost directly behind Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who stepped down from the papacy in 2013.

In a telephone interview after the ceremonies, which were conducted by Pope Francis early Sunday Philadelphia time, Soroka described the celebration as "very prayerful, very meditative, and very reflective."

"As they were proclaimed saints by the Holy Father, at that moment it was beginning to rain, just a light, light rain," Soroka said. "It was very cloudy, and at that moment, the sky turned bright with light, the rain stopped, and it never rained throughout the rest of the service.

"I certainly felt the presence of the saints at that moment. It was just incredible."

St. Adalbert's was crowded by the end of the prayer service and the beginning of the 3 p.m. Celebratory Mass.

For these local worshippers, the presence of St. John Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyla, was felt everywhere in the brightly painted church - from the portrait of Pope John Paul II (painted by Zenia Konik) to the right of the altar, next to a smaller portrait of Pope John XXIII, to the flowing Polish of much of the service, most of the readings, and virtually all of the songs.

Many parishioners apologized for their lack of English, but certainly could say beautiful and wonderful and happy.

Regina Przepiorka, who lives in the Northeast but considers St. Adalbert's her parish, called the day "beautiful."

"First of all, he is Polish," she said, referring to St. John Paul II. "I am too. I was born in Poland. It's a beautiful feeling today. It was a beautiful feeling when he became pope. He was a good pope who tried to be at peace with everybody."

Bozena Glazewski, who once lived in Port Richmond but now resides in Montgomery County, called the day exceptional.

"I don't even have the words to express how proud I am, how honored, that he is from our country," she said. "I have John Paul II pictures in my house. And I always talk to him: 'Hi! How are you?'

"He answers my prayers."

Theresa Romanowski, who lives in Port Richmond, has a long history with now-Saint John Paul II. She served as a special Polish American emissary from Philadelphia, selected to deliver the city's greetings to Pope John Paul II in Torun, Poland, in 1999.

She pulled a photograph from her pocket that showed her kissing the pope's ring - a memento of the occasion.

But she had encountered him even earlier, in 1976, when then-Cardinal Wojtyla visited Philadelphia and also attended a luncheon at Our Lady of Czestochowa National Shrine in Bucks County. (He visited St. Adalbert's on that trip, too.)

Romanowski was selected to serve the cardinal his meal.

"I was a waitress!" she exclaimed. "Who knew I'd be serving a future pope, a future saint? Who knew?"

She paused, remembering that long-ago meal. "He loved Philadelphia," she said. "He loved this parish. He always remembered."

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