BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Thousands of Catholics are traveling to the Vatican for a historic weekend when Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be canonized and become saints during the same ceremony.
Western New York is heavily tied to Pope John Paul II. News 4’s Don Postles sat down with the daughter of a Buffalo woman who got caught in the crossfire in 1981 during an attempt on the pontiff’s life in St. Peter’s Square.
Ann Odre of Buffalo was wounded in the assassination attempt, and I was sent to Rome on special assignment with her daughter Joanne Kenjarski as her mother embarked on the long road to recovery. The pope had a special place in his heart for Odre for the pain, trauma and suffering she went through at his expense.
Kenjarski said, “He was very concerned that she was hurt, she was much worse than he was and it continued for quite awhile.”
Odre and the pope became very close. She would speak in Polish when talking to him and they often embraced each other during their meetings over the years in Rome.
“She went up to him and gave him a hug and embraced and again they talked in Polish about how they were recovering and how good they both looked he was happy to see her and my mom the same,” Kenjarski said.
She and her family along with Odre met Pope John Paul II several times.
Kenjarski said, “It’s amazing the warmth I feel and the honor at this point in time to have the canonization happening on Sunday and to have actually held his hand and embraced him.”
Her husband Tom knows why John Paul II was called “the people’s pope.”
“I remember that meeting him in Toronto when I had the chance to hold his hand and I felt the real presence of God,” he recalled.
The pope and Odre developed a life-long bond after the shooting. When she died in 1997, the pope sent a letter of sympathy to the Kenjarski family.
Dr. Jeffrey Meilman set up the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation after the pontiff wanted a little Polish boy to receive a medical operation in Buffalo.
“He definitely had a place in our foundation and he was always open to receiving and blessing the kids that we operated on,” Dr. Meilman said.
He has performed hundreds of operations through the foundation and is honored that Pope John Paul II is becoming a saint.
Dr. Meilman said, “I am in awe of this kind of an individual and I’m very happy to hear that he is being canonized.”
On a personal note, I will always cherish Pope John Paul II blessing my wife in 1985, when she was expecting our third child.