Thousands of Poles will travel to Rome for the May 1 beatification of their beloved countryman, Pope John Paul II. But two of the faithful have already left _ on foot.
Two men on Thursday began the 900-mile (1,500-kilometer) journey from Olbrachcice Wielkie, in southwestern Poland, planning to walk down Europe's roads and across fields, counting on the hospitality of people they meet on the way. They are equipped with sleeping bags, a small tent, mobile phones and some food.
"I am walking to show that there are people who still remember John Paul II and his teaching of love of others," one of the men, Pawel Bibulowicz, told The Associated Press by telephone as he tromped through a muddy field. The 21-year-old works as a volunteer at a hospice for children in the eastern city of Bialystok.
His companion, 61-year-old tourist guide Andrzej Kofluk, said the first hour of the journey was joyful, albeit a little slippery due to the Spring thaw.
Kofluk said that two of his friends are already in Austria, having set out on foot from Wroclaw, in southwestern Poland, in February.
A group of teenagers and teachers are also planning to set out on bicycles later this month from the central city of Plock, Polish media have reported.
John Paul, born Karol Wojtyla, was pope from 1978-2005 and remains a greatly loved figure in his homeland.
Churches across Poland are organizing special buses and trains to take many thousands of Poles to the Vatican for the beatification _ the last major step before possible sainthood.
For those who can't make the trip, ceremonies and a video transmission of the beatification ceremony will be broadcast for the faithful in Poland. The main public celebration is expected to take place in Krakow, where Wojtyla served from parish priest to cardinal before being elected pope.