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LA STAMPA

Saint Or Pop Superstar? John Paul II’s Beatification Blurs Sacred Lines

The kitsch that accompanied John Paul in life and in death is in full force ahead of Sunday’s ceremony that puts him on the road to Sainthood. Are the faithful really just devoted fans?

John Paul merchandise is eternally on sale in Rome. (Radio Nederland)
John Paul merchandise is eternally on sale in Rome. (Radio Nederland)
Mattia Feltri

ROME - The Vatican is again facing the risk that Karol Wojtyla could be turned into a pop icon rather than a saint. Already during the long days of his illness, and later, after his death, people around the world expressed an unconditional love for Pope John Paul II that bordered on idolatry. It was not clear whether they were moved by his new Christian anthropology or by popular appeal alone.

A glance at the shop windows of Rome in the run up to the Polish pope's beatification Sunday could raise the same doubts. The street leading to St Peter's Square, via della Conciliazione, resembles a bazaar. T-shirts on sale for six euros celebrate the beatification as a "historical event". All sorts of goods and goodies are dedicated to John Paul II: ashtrays, glasses, mugs, plates, bottle openers, thimbles, pens, fans, at least twelve kinds of post cards, photos albums, scarves, neckerchiefs, magnets and mouse pads.

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Russia

When Mom Believes Putin: A Russian Family Torn Apart Over Ukraine Invasion

Sisters Rante and Satu Vodich fled Russia because they could no longer bear to live under Putin — but their mother believes state propaganda about the war. Her daughters are building a new life for themselves in Georgia.

A mother and her daughter on a barricade in Kyiv

Steffi Unsleber

TBILISI — On a gloomy afternoon in May, Rante Vodich gets the keys to her new home. A week earlier, the 27-year-old found this wooden shed in Tbilisi, with a corrugated iron roof and ramshackle bathroom. The shed next door houses an old bed covered in dust. Vodich refers to the place as a “studio” and pays $300 per month in rent. She says finding the studio is the best thing that’s happened to her since she came to Georgia. It is her hope for the future.

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Her younger sister Satu Vodich is around 400 kilometers further west, in the city of Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast, surrounded by Russian tourists, Ukrainian flags, skyscrapers with sea views and the run-down homes of local residents.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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