CNS PHOTO | MASSIMO SESTINI, ITALIAN NATIONAL POLICE VIA CATHOLIC PRESS PHOTO
People Pack St. Peter's Square and the Via della Conciliazione leading up to the square during the beatification of Pope John Paul II May 1 at the Vatican.
John Paul II is blessed because of his faith — a strong, generous and apostolic faith,” Pope Benedict said May 1 just minutes after formally beatifying his predecessor.
Many among those attending Pope John Paul’s beatification had personal stories about seeing the late pope or even meeting him, and Pope Benedict ended his homily at the Mass sharing his own personal story.
“I would like to thank God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II,” he said.
As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1982 until his election in 2005, Pope Benedict said he worked at the pope’s side “and came to revere him.”
“His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry,” the pope said.
“Today his name is added to the host of those whom he proclaimed saints and blesseds during the almost 27 years of his pontificate,” the pope said in his homily.
Pope John Paul during his pontificate beatified 1,338 people and canonized 482 — more than all of his predecessors combined. The beatification of Pope John Paul just six years and a month after his death in 2005 was the fastest beatification in some 500 years.
Pope Benedict said that even at the moment of his death people “perceived the fragrance of his sanctity and in any number of ways God’s people showed their veneration for him.
“For this reason, with all due respect for the Church’s canonical norms, I wanted his cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste.”
After the Mass, Pope Benedict went into St. Peter’s Basilica and knelt in prayer for four minutes before Blessed John Paul’s casket. After the pope left, the concelebrating cardinals filed up to the wooden casket, touching it lightly and kissing it.
CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, who's cure from Parkinson's disease was accepted as the miracle that paved the way for Pope John Paul II's beatification, carriers a relic of the late pope during his beatification Mass.
Eventually, the Vatican opened the basilica to the general public and kept it open until preparations had to be made for the official Mass of thanksgiving for the beatification May 2.
Italian police said that for the Mass more than one million people were gathered in and around the Vatican and in front of large video screens in several parts of the city.
Thousands of people spent a chilly, damp night camped out near the Vatican in an attempt to find a place in St. Peter’s Square when the gates were scheduled to open at 5:30 a.m. for the 10 a.m. beatification Mass. The crowds were so large that police began letting people in at 2 a.m., according to news reports.
Thibaut Cappe, a 23-year-old from Paris, got up at 3 a.m. and managed to find a spot halfway up the boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square.
CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
About 250,000 pilgrims venerated the casket of Blessed Pope John Paul II in front of the main altar in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 2.
Cappe said Pope John Paul “is an example of simplicity in the way of being a Catholic. It’s not always easy to be a Catholic in our world. He was doing it in a way that was understandable for everyone.”
Also in the square was Sister Marie Clarice, a 30-year-old member of the Little Servants of the Sacred Heart from Madagascar.
She said she remembers when Pope John Paul came to Madagascar in 1989; she was only seven or eight, and the image that has remained is of a person who cared about the weak and powerless.
“I remember the way he welcomed the poor. He embraced them, like this,” Clarice said opening her arms in a wide hug.
Speaking briefly in Polish in his homily, Pope Benedict said of his predecessor: “By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel.
“In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty,” the pope said.
CNS PHOTO | GIANCCARLO GIULIANI, CATHOLIC PRESS PHOTO
A tapestry bearing a 1995 photo of Pope John Paul II hung from St. Peter's Basilica.
The pope declared “the venerable servant of God, John Paul II, pope, henceforth will be called blessed” and his feast will be Oct. 22, the anniversary of the inauguration of his pontificate in 1978.
The crowds burst into sustained applause, many people cried and brass players intoned a fanfare as soon as the pope finished reading the proclamation.
Polish Sister Tobiana Sobodka, who ran Pope John Paul’s household, and French Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, whose cure from Parkinson’s disease was accepted as the miracle that paved the way for his beatification, carried a relic to Pope Benedict and then to a stand near the altar.
The relic was a clear glass vial of Pope John Paul’s blood held in a reliquary of silver olive branches.
In his homily, Pope Benedict spoke of Pope John Paul’s suffering and his battle with Parkinson’s disease, which eventually crippled him.
“There was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a ‘rock,’ as Christ desired.
“His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined,” the pope said.
At the end of his homily, Pope Benedict prayed, “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.”