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Sainthood for John Paul II and John XXIII, as crowds pack St. Peter’s Square

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Story highlights

NEW: Estimated 800,000 watch ceremony in St. Peter's area, 500,000 more around Rome

Pope Francis hails John XXIII and John Paul II as "men of courage" in his homily

"They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century," Francis says

The presence of two living popes for a canonization ceremony is historic

Rome CNN —  

John XXIII and John Paul II were canonized Sunday by Pope Francis in an unprecedented ceremony witnessed by huge crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

Millions more around the world watched as two former pontiffs were for the first time installed as saints in a dual canonization.

The faithful and the curious packed the streets of Rome around the Vatican before dawn, hoping to gain entry to St. Peter’s Square and catch a direct glimpse of church history in the making.

Vatican Radio put the crowds at some 800,000 in the St. Peter’s area, including the square and the roads and gardens around it. Another 500,000 followed the proceedings on giant screens set up around Rome, according to estimates based on police aerial shots.

In another first on a historic day, two living popes were present for the ceremony.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned from the papacy a year ago citing health reasons, was not at the altar but was greeted warmly by Francis both before and after the event.

Many of those gathered in the square for the solemn open-air ceremony carried flags and banners. The red and white Polish flag was prominent among them, a reflection of the affection felt for John Paul II in his homeland, Poland. Another read simply, “Thank you.”

With the canonization, a holy relic for each of the popes was formally presented to the altar before the crowds. Giant banners showing the faces of the two late popes hung on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.

In his homily, Francis described the pair as “men of courage” who bore witness to God’s mercy.

“They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century,” he said. “They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful, faith was more powerful.”

He paid tribute to the efforts of John XXIII and John Paul II to renew and strengthen the church.

The landmark Second Vatican Council called by John XXIII was of great service to the church, he said. That council helped to bring the church to the people, for example by allowing languages other than Latin to be used for Mass.

John Paul II, who served for nearly 27 years, is seen as the “pope of the family” and wanted to be remembered that way, Francis added.

Popemobile progress

After greeting visiting dignitaries, Pope Francis climbed into the Popemobile, a chance for him to get closer to some of the many faithful who have flocked to Rome.

The joyful crowds waved and screamed as he passed through their midst in the open-sided vehicle, with Francis waving and smiling back.

One American pilgrim, Hector Alicea of Maryland, told CNN it was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for him and his two children to be there for the event.

“It was very exciting,” he said. “We didn’t get a lot of sleep and it’s very, very crowded, but all in all it was an incredibly cheerful environment.”

The event has a special significance for him because his faith was revitalized after he heard John Paul II preach a sermon in Baltimore in 1994, he said. “What we are seeing today is the kind of youth who grew up in the John Paul generation.”

He was impressed by the diversity of the crowds, he said, as well as the numbers of young and old among them.

Applause greets Benedict