John Paul II and John XXIII, perhaps the two most beloved popes of the modern era, were declared saints yesterday before an estimated million faithful gathered at St. Peter’s Square.
Estimates for the number of pilgrims who made the trip to Rome for the rare double canonisation varied widely, from 800,000 to more than two million. St. Peter’s Square was filled with the faithful, many of whom camped overnight.
It was the largest gathering in Rome since John Paul II’s funeral eight years ago.
Many of the visitors were from Poland in a final large-scale homage to John Paul II who became the first non-Italian pope in 455 years in 1978.
“It was so moving to be part of a ceremony to honour two holy men. John Paul, who is the pride of all of Poland,” said Magda Bajek, a 40-year-old book editor who made the 700-mile trip from Krakow, John Paul II’s hometown, by bus.
Day of four popes
It was the first time in the church’s history two popes were named saints on the same day. And with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI joining Pope Francis for the ceremony, it was also the first time a canonisation ceremony was attended by two pontiffs. The Italian press dubbed Sunday “the day of four popes.”
In his homily, Francis stayed away from his reform agenda, the politics behind the unusual dual canonisation, or the criticisms that sainthoods may have been rushed. He focused on a characteristic he shared with the two new saints–their love for the poor and unfortunate and their roles as examples of “Christian hope and joy.”
Both men, Francis said, “saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles,” and both “bore witness before the church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.”
The church’s two newest saints took different roads to sainthood: John, who was pope from 1958 to 1963, is seen as a man of vision, while John Paul, who was pope from 1978 to 2005, was cast as a man of decisive action.
John, nicknamed “The Good Pope,” is best remembered for convening the Second Vatican Council that eliminated the Latin-only mass and made the liturgy more accessible.