FROM ANNA ARCO IN ROME
MORE than a million pilgrims converged on the Vatican for the beatification of Pope John Paul II on Sunday.
A huge cheer went up and flags were waved when Pope Benedict XVI declared his predecessor Blessed and a tapestry of John Paul II was unveiled from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica. This was the second beatification Pope Benedict has performed and the first in St Peter’s Square. One Vatican official described the scene as a “sea of the faithful”. The main avenue leading up to St Peter’s Square, the Via della Conciliazione, was packed with pilgrims by four in the morning, hoping for good spots. Tens of thousands of Poles had travelled to the Eternal City to watch the Polish pope move a step closer to canonisation. Red and white flags dominated the crowd, many of them with pictures of Blessed John Paul II attached to them, and Polish pilgrims sang songs while waiting for the Mass to begin. There were also large numbers of French and Spanish pilgrims and many Romans came out into the streets in honour of Blessed John Paul. A group of Iraqi Christians who were wounded in the October 31 attack on a Baghdad cathedral last year was also in the crowd, wearing matching boaters and waving an enormous Iraqi flag.
In his homily Pope Benedict held up his predecessor as an example and said he had saved the Church from what seemed to be an irreversible tide of secularisation by opening the doors wide to Christ in political, economic, cultural and social systems. He also said the late pope had put the ideas of the Second Vatican Council into practice, addressing accusations by critics that he had been opposed to them.
He said: “Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people.” By Monday morning over 250,000 pilgrims had entered the basilica to venerate the pope’s coffin, which was later placed in the altar of St Sebastian. The beatification was the high point of a three-day celebration of John Paul’s life and holiness. Many pilgrims had spent Saturday night sleeping in the streets of Rome in the hope of catching a glimpse of the ceremony, while others had spent all night awake in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration at eight churches around the centre of Rome following a prayer vigil in the Circus Maximus led by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the cardinal vicar of the Diocese of Rome and the postulator for Pope John Paul II’s Cause. At the vigil pilgrims held coloured candles which glowed in the dusk while Dr Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the late pope’s director of communications, spoke of John Paul II’s legacy.
Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, the French nun whose miraculous cure from Parkinson’s disease provided the miracle which allowed the late pope to be beatified, spoke about her illness.
Reports: Pages 1-4 Beatification homily: Page 5 Editorial comment: Page 13 Pastor Iuventus: Page 17