By plane and train, coach and car, hundreds of thousands of Poles are heading to the Vatican for Friday’s funeral of their beloved countryman, Pope John Paul II.
Latest estimates by Poland’s Foreign Ministry suggest that a million Poles will attend the funeral.
Extra services to Rome laid on by Poland’s national airline and railway companies are completely sold out.
With tickets on public transport in such short supply, church and community groups from across Poland are organizing their own charters.
400 pilgrims from Krakow’s Catholic Cultural Centre have bought tickets for one of 3 special charter aircraft to Rome -- even though the fare costs more than half the country’s average monthly wage of 2200 zlotys (US$700)
“We are very, very busy here,” said Przemyslaw Pawlik from the Centre.
“The seats on the first plane are mostly taken by priests from Krakow.
“The charters will be leaving late on Thursday afternoon.
“We’ll get people as close to St. Peter’s Square as we can and they’ll stay there until after the funeral,” added Mr Pawlik.
John Paul II was born in the southern town of Wadowice. For many in his homeland, he was quite simply the greatest Pole that ever lived.
“The Pope has always been the greatest authority and guide in my life,” said Maria Deskur, a book editor from Krakow who is heading to the Vatican with her husband.
“In difficult moments I asked myself what the pope would have done in my situation.
“The funeral will be a great religious experience and a moment of history.”
At her office in central Krakow, travel agent Anna Cios has been deluged with inquiries.
“The phones have been ringing non-stop since Monday,” she said.
“This is a very special situation, though. We don’t want to profit from pilgrims and we’re offering the lowest possible fares.”
Poles seem undeterred by the shortage of hotel beds at their destination, the massive queue lining up to see the Pope’s body lying in state and the crush of fellow pilgrims that will greet them on their arrival.
“I feel it is the last time I can do something for the Pope,” said Maria Naimska, 19, a student from Warsaw.
“I’d rather be just a few miles away from the funeral than here in Poland, hundreds of miles away.”
In this deeply Catholic country, many feel their lives are closely intertwined with John Paul II’s papacy.
“I feel a special relation with the Pope as I was born in 1977,” said Krzysztof Lapinski, 28.
“He was there throughout my whole life.
“I want to be with him on his final journey.”
The police expect traffic to be heavy on Poland’s western and southern borders from Wednesday evening onwards.
“We’ve increased the number of officers on the border and we’re easing procedures for travelers, especially for the elderly and disabled,” said a police spokesman, Jaroslaw Zukowicz.
None of those traveling from Poland to the Vatican expect their pilgrimage to be easy. But for hundreds of thousands of Poles it’s a journey they feel they must make.