THOUSANDS of Irish pilgrims packed St Peter's Square to witness Pope John Paul II beatifying 17 Irish martyrs this week.
The Pope called on Ireland to be a "model" Christian society and to "fight the good fight of the faith" as he beatified the men and women who died for the Catholic faith in Ireland from 1579 to 1654. Attending the beatification were Cardinal Cabal Daly, all the Irish bishops and numerous priests and religious.
As the Pope declared the 17 blessed, five huge tapestries were unfurled from the balconies of St Peter's, forming together a map of Ireland.
Pope John Paul II, who betrayed no signs of his recent cancer operation, said "the martyrs' significance for today lies in the fact that their testimony shatters the vain claim to live one's life... without reference to our eternal calling".
Although the Pope did not echo his speech to the Irish bishops last week, in which he condemned abortion, he blasted the consumerism rampant in modern society for its failure to resist the introduction of abortion. The practice, he said, was "the greatest scandal in the world today".
After the two hour ceremony, the Pope met with high-ranking representatives of the Irish hierarchy as well as with the members of the Church of Ireland in the Vatican apartments.