VATICAN CITY (TheBlaze/AP) — A massive audience showed up Sunday to see a historic dual papal canonization — the first in history. Pope Francis presided over the event, which was a public proclamation of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII’s sainthood.
Adding to the historic and uncommon nature of the canonization was the fact that two living pontiffs were present, as Pope Benedict XVI was in attendance. Never before has a reigning and retired pope celebrated Mass together in public, much less at an event honoring two of their most famous predecessors.
Francis took a deep breath and paused for a moment before reciting the saint-making formula in Latin, as if moved by the history he was about to make.
He said that after deliberating, consulting and praying for divine assistance “we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be saints and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church.”
Applause broke out from a crowd that stretched from St. Peter’s to the Tiber River and beyond.
See stunning images from the canonization below:
“Four popes in one ceremony is a fantastic thing to see and to be at, because it is history being written in our sight,” marveled one of the visiting Poles, David Halfar. “It is wonderful to be a part in this and to live all of this.”
Most of those who arrived first at St. Peter’s had camped out overnight nearby on air mattresses and sleeping pads. Others hadn’t slept at all and took part in the all-night prayer vigils hosted at a dozen churches in downtown Rome.
By mid-morning, the scene in the square was quiet and subdued — perhaps due to the chilly gray skies and cumulative lack of sleep — unlike the rollicking party atmosphere of John Paul’s May 2011 beatification when bands of young people sang and danced in the hours before the Mass.
As TheBlaze highlighted yesterday in a preview of today’s big event, there are a number of qualifications one must meet in order to be considered a saint — and the process the Catholic Church goes through before canonization is possible is complex and extensive.
Both Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II met these qualifications — miracles and all. And both for very different reasons.
Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958-1963, is a hero to liberal Catholics for having convened the Second Vatican Council. The meetings brought the church into the modern era by allowing Mass to be celebrated in local languages rather than Latin and by encouraging greater dialogue with people of other faiths, particularly Jews.
During his quarter-century papacy from 1978-2005, John Paul II helped topple communism through his support of Poland’s Solidarity movement. His globe-trotting papacy and launch of the wildly popular World Youth Days invigorated a new generation of Catholics, while his defense of core church teaching heartened conservatives after the turbulent 1960s.
“John Paul was our pope,” said Therese Andjoua, a 49-year-old nurse who traveled from Libreville, Gabon, with some 300 other pilgrims to attend. She sported a traditional African dress bearing the images of the two new saints.
“In 1982 he came to Gabon and when he arrived he kissed the ground and told us to ‘Get up, go forward and be not afraid,'” she recalled as she rested against a pallet of water bottles. “When we heard he was going to be canonized, we got up.”
Kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers from more than 90 countries attended. Some 20 Jewish leaders from the U.S., Israel, Italy, Francis’ native Argentina and Poland were also taking part, in a clear sign of their appreciation for the great strides made in Catholic-Jewish relations under John, John Paul — and their successors celebrating their sainthood.
Read more about how someone becomes a saint here.