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Poland Says Goodbye to Its National Hero

Krakow, for centuries the royal capital of Poland, is full of plaques and memorials to John Paul. His image is omnipresent, dominating bookstores and museums and the many Renaissance churches in the historic center of the city.

Many people here have quietly harbored hopes that the pope would break with tradition and resolve to be buried in the town that he referred to as "my Krakow."


A woman clutches a rosary in the southern city of Krakow, where Pope John Paul II celebrated his first Mass as a priest. (Photos Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)

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Popes are allowed to choose where they are buried. Specific instructions are usually spelled out in the pope's testament and kept secret until death. Because John Paul was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, the possibility of burial someplace other than Rome had not been raised in centuries.

"I remember he said he'd like for his heart to stay here in Krakow," Skawinski said. "It would be a great thing for us."

The Rev. Janusz Bielanski, the custodian of the cathedral, said he raised the subject five years ago with one of John Paul's assistants from the Vatican, who appeared to throw cold water on the idea. "He said he would receive all the love in the world in the Vatican, and that he would be able to be honored much more frequently in Italy than if he came back to Poland," Bielanski said.

In an interview published Saturday in the Italian daily La Repubblica, a crypt custodian said John Paul had made clear his preference for a spot in the Polish chapel of the Madonna of Czestochowa, which was constructed in the 1950s in a grotto beneath St. Peter's.

"They say that he left word that he would like to be taken back to Poland," the custodian said. "But I know, believe me, that he wants to be buried here in this piece of Poland. He spent many hours here and only I know how many."

Correspondent Keith B. Richburg in Paris contributed to this report.


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