Pope John Paul beatified before huge crowd at the Vatican

May 1, 2011

(A view of the crowd in Saint Peter's Square during the beatification mass for Pope John Paul II led by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican May 1, 2011/Stefano Rellandini)

The late Pope John Paul moved a major step closer to sainthood on Sunday at a ceremony that drew about a million and half people, the largest crowd in Rome since his funeral six years ago. “From now on Pope John Paul shall be called ‘blessed,’” Pope Benedict, wearing white and gold robes, proclaimed in Latin, establishing that his predecessor’s feast day would be October 22, the day of the inauguration of John Paul’s pontificate in 1978.

To the cheers of the crowd, a tapestry showing a smiling John Paul was unveiled after Benedict read the proclamation. St Peter’s Square was packed and the crowd stretched as far back as the Tiber River, more than half a km away. The devotees, many carrying national flags and singing, moved toward the Vatican area from all directions from before dawn to get a good spot for the Mass.

Police estimated the crowd in the Vatican area at about 1.5 million people. Many camped out during the night in the square, which was bedecked with posters of the late pope and one of his most famous sayings, “Do not be afraid!”

In his homily, Benedict noted that the late Pope, whom he praised as having had “the strength of a titan” and who gave millions of people “the strength to believe,” had blessed crowds thousands of times from his window overlooking the same square. “Bless us now,” Benedict said.

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