Pope Francis proclaimed his predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II saints at a historic ceremony Sunday in the presence of emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.
“John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries,” Francis said before some 800,000 people, according to The Associated Press.
A reigning pope and a retired pope were together in a Mass in public for the first time. Also unprecedented was the concurrent canonization of two former popes.
“They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them,” Francis said.
“May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two year journey towards the Synod on the family, She may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family,” the pope was quoted as saying by Vatican Radio. “May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always brings with it hope, forgiveness and love.”
An overwhelming majority of pilgrims was from Poland, the homeland of Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years until his death in 2005. They were holding the red and white flags of John Paul’s homeland, and were among the first to arrive at the square.
John Paul II is credited with helping to end communist rule in Poland as well as all of Europe. He is also known for helping improve the Roman Catholic Church’s relations with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion.
“For years Pope John Paul II took the Church to the ends of the earth and today the ends of the earth have come back here,” Father Tom Rosica, head of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic television network, told Reuters.
However, some have criticized the Catholic Church for canonizing John Paul too quickly. Some also say he failed to do enough to deal with sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
Heeding calls for John Paul’s sainthood that followed soon after his death, Benedict had put him on the fast-track for possible sainthood. And Francis amended the Vatican’s saint-making rules, lifting the requirement for a second miracle for canonization.
John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in Italy, was pope from October 1958 until his death in 1963. He is particularly liked by liberal Catholics as he convened Vatican II, which made room for the celebration of Mass in local languages, and not just Latin alone.
Part of the Mass on Sunday were about 850 cardinals and bishops and 700 priests, who distributed communion to the huge crowd. About 10,000 police and security personnel and special paramedic teams had been deployed for the ceremony, where Benedict received the Italian president and cardinals, and also Pope Francis at the beginning and end of the Mass.
Benedict had said he would remain “hidden from the world” after he quit, but Francis reportedly managed to persuade him to participate in the public life of the church.