Unprecedented Double Canonization Draws Multitudes

"Priests, Bishops, Popes": Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass for Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II in St. Peter’s square on April 27.

Canonizing two recent popes in the presence of his immediate predecessor, Pope Francis praised the new saints, John XXIII and John Paul II, as men of courage and mercy who responded to challenges of their time by modernizing the Catholic Church in fidelity to its ancient traditions. “They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century,” the pope said on April 27 in his homily during Mass in St. Peter’s Square. “They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful.”

Pope Francis said his predecessors “cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church in keeping with her original features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries.” Speaking before a crowd of as many as 800,000 that included Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis praised St. John for his best-known accomplishment, the calling of the Second Vatican Council. “This was his great service to the church,” Pope Francis said. “I like to think of him as the pope of openness to the Spirit.”

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Pope Francis characterized St. John Paul as the “pope of the family,” a title by which, he said, the late pope himself had hoped to be remembered. Pope Francis said he was sure St. John Paul was guiding the church on its path to two upcoming synods of bishops on the family, to be held at the Vatican this October and in October 2015. The pope invoked the help of the two new pope saints for the synods’ success, and he prayed, “May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.”

Pope Francis has said the agenda for the family synods will include church teaching and practice on marriage, areas he has said exemplify a particular need for mercy in the church today. The pope, in fact, repeatedly mentioned mercy in his homily, which he delivered on the Second Sunday of Easter, also known as Divine Mercy Sunday, a name St. John Paul introduced into the church’s universal calendar in 2000. The Polish pope died on the vigil of the feast in 2005 and was beatified on that Sunday in 2011.

In addition to Pope Benedict, who was making only his third public appearance since he resigned in February 2013, Pope Francis’ concelebrants included some 150 cardinals and 700 bishops. About 6,000 priests attended, as well as deacons, to help distribute Communion to as many people as possible.

St. Peter’s Square was packed to capacity as more than 500,000 people filled the surrounding area; those unable to cross the bridges to the Vatican watched from large screens in several areas throughout the city, including the Roman Forum and the Piazza Navona. The red and white flags of Poland dominated the square and streets leading to the basilica, while the gray, overcast sky saw splashes of color with enormous yellow and white balloons held aloft.

In the center of Rome, pilgrims had begun an all-night vigil on April 26. The entire Piazza Navona was turned into an open-air church for Polish pilgrims. An altar was brought outside to the front steps of the church of St. Agnese in Agone to allow hundreds of people the opportunity to kneel and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. About a dozen churches were open all night for eucharistic adoration, confessions and prayer services in seven different languages.

Tens of thousands of Polish Catholics celebrated their country’s newest saint by converging on Krakow, where he served as cardinal-archbishop before becoming pope. About 50,000 people attended an open-air Mass at the Divine Mercy sanctuary on the outskirts of that city in southern Poland.

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