Hundreds of thousands of Christians gathered at St. Peter’s Square to witness Pope Francis formally declaring Popes John XXIII and John Paul II saints on Divine Mercy Sunday. 800,000 people witnessed the canonization from St. Peter’s Square, and an additional 500,000 gathered in the streets of Rome to watch the event televised on large screens, Vatican Radio reported. Delegates, including kings, queens, and prime ministers, from 93 countries attended the ceremony. These figures make it the largest event at the Vatican since Francis began his papacy.
Pope Emeritus Benedict even attended the ceremony, marking his third public appearance since resigning from the papacy last year. Benedict is partially responsible for expediting St. John Paul II’s journey to sainthood, because he waived the five-year period that typically must follow a person’s death before he or she can begin the beatification process.
St. John XXIII underwent a similar exception when Francis allowed for his canonization without proof of a second miracle.
In the homily, Francis lauded the accomplishments of the two 20th-century popes. He credited them with laying the foundation for the role and actions of the Catholic Church in today’s society. St. John XXIII, age 76 at the start of his papacy, was expected to maintain the status quo. However, he would address the need for the Second Vatican Council merely 100 days after taking the position. This highly controversial council would modernize the Catholic Church through massive changes.
St. John Paul II, the first Polish pope, focused on the importance of the family as well as the universal call to holiness. His “Theology of the Body” discusses human sexuality and the sanctity of life from natural conception to death. Additionally, he canonized 483 saints, more than all previous popes of the preceding 500 years combined as evidence of the call to holiness. He had the second longest papacy of all time — 26 years.
Francis said St. John XXIII was “the pope of openness to the spirit” while Saint John Paul II was “the pope of the family,” according to CNN.
People personally impacted by the saints, such as those who underwent miracles associated with them or those with strong devotion to them, carried relics to the altar during the canonization. For St. John XXIII, the relic was a small portion of his skin, and for St. John Paul II, it was a vial of his blood, American Magazine reports. In addition, banners, tapestries and posters covered St. Peter’s Square, as did around 30,000 roses donated from Ecuador.
Students from The University have expressed excitement about the newest saints. “I’m excited about JP II [John Paul II] because he was Polish, like my grandma. I’m excited about St. Pope John XXIII [sic] because Pope John XXIII High School is my alma mater,” sophomore Robert Eckweiller said.
Francis, in accordance with his personable reputation, spent half an hour after the canonization socializing with the delegates before riding the “Popemobile” through the streets in the square to the excitement of onlookers, according to American Magazine.
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