Nearly 800,000 pilgrims were on hand in St. Peter’s Square to watch the historic canonization ceremony of Pope John Paul II and John XXIII on Divine Mercy Sunday, presided over by two popes for the first time in history as millions watched from around the globe.
The Vatican Information Service (VIS) is reporting that St. Peter’s Square opened at 5:00 a.m. yesterday morning and quickly filled with pilgrims from around the world, a crowd that rapidly swelled into the surrounding streets of Rome.
Also present were heads of state such as King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium, the ex-president of the Republic of Poland Lech Walesa, and the presidents of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy, and the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso. The U.S. delegation, led by White House Counsel John Podesta, Representative Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, and legislative director Katie Beirne Fallon.
The celebration was also attended by Floribeth Mora Diaz and Sister Adele Labianca – the two women who experienced the miracles attributed to John Paul II.
“In the square, adorned with more than 30,000 roses from Ecuador, and in Via della Conciliazione, hundreds of thousands of faithful prepared for the celebration by reciting the chaplet of Divine Mercy, intercalated with texts from the magisterium of both pontiffs and preceded by the Hymn to Blessed John XXIII, Good Shepherd of Christ’s Flock. The prayer ended with the Hymn to Blessed John Paul II, Open the doors to Christ,” the VIS reports.
A procession of cardinals and bishops kicked off the event, walking into the square while reciting litanies invoking the protection of the saints. Before taking their seats, they took a moment to greet Pope emeritus Benedict XVI who concelebrated with Pope Francis, who entered the square a few minutes after 10:00 a.m.
Francis also stopped to greet Pope Benedict, an historic image that was instantly transmitted around the world.
According to Fox News, Francis took a noticeable deep breath and pause before reciting the canonization formula in Latin at the beginning of the ceremony, almost as if he was himself moved by the historic nature of the act of canonizing two popes at one time.
But then he boldly pronounced: “For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”.
Applause broke out from the crowd that now stretched from St. Peter’s to the Tiber River and beyond.
At the same time, bells began to ring throughout John Paul’s native Poland.
Relics of the two saints were then displayed on the altar – a phial of blood of John Paul II and a piece of skin which was removed from the body of John XXIII when it was exhumed for his beatification in 2000.
During his homily, Francis referred to St. John XXIII as “the Pope of openness to the Holy Spirit”, and to St. John Paul II as “the Pope of the Family”, recalling that “at the heart of this Sunday, which concludes the Octave of Easter and which John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, are the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.”
He went on to reflect upon the gospel of the day, which was the incident of Thomas confronting his risen Savior.
“The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: ‘by his wounds you have been healed’,” Francis said.
“John XXIII and John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother, because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.”
He called both men “priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century” who had lived through the tragic events of the time but were not overwhelmed by them.
“For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history . . .”
He also commended both popes for the role they played in Second Vatican Council.
“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. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader. This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit.
“In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains”.
The Holy Father concluded. “May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family. 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 hopes and always forgives, because it always loves”.
The bodies of both popes were displayed in glass cases for the faithful to venerate throughout the day.
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