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Pope John Paul II was a true believer, a courageous voice of truth and a man whose witness to the faith grew more eloquent as his ability to speak declined, Pope Benedict XVI and others who worked closely with the late pope said at events for his beatification. “John Paul II is blessed because of his faith—a strong, generous and apostolic faith,” Pope Benedict said on May 1 just minutes after formally beatifying his predecessor. In the beatification proclamation, Pope Benedict said that after a consultation with many bishops and members of the faithful and a study by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, he had decided that “the venerable servant of God, John Paul II, pope, henceforth will be called blessed” and that his feast will be Oct. 22, the anniversary of the inauguration of his pontificate in 1978. Italian police said that for the beatification Mass more than a million people were gathered in and around the Vatican and in front of large video screens in several parts of Rome.

“I would like to thank God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II,” Pope Benedict said. “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. Pope Benedict said that even at the moment of John Paul’s 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.”

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