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Pope Francis praised popes John XXIII and John Paul II as “the pope of openness to the Spirit” and “the pope of the family” following their canonisation at a ceremony witnessed by 800,000 pilgrims crammed into a rainy St Peter’s Square and the roads leading up to it.
Popes John XXIII and John Paul II were declared saints this morning during an unprecedented canonisation ceremony at the Vatican attended by pilgrims from around the world.
There was applause and shouts of joy in St Peter’s Square as Pope Francis said: “We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints” during the simple, short ceremony.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, 87, made a rare public appearance to concelebrate alongside Pope Francis, who embraced his predecessor before the ceremony began.
The Pope Emeritus wore white vestments, and in an historic first, concelebrated the Mass with Pope Francis, though he did not join him at the altar.
Today has been dubbed “the day of four popes”.
In his homily Pope Francis said the two newly declared saints were “not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his hands and his pierced side.” He went on: “They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful.”
The Pope praised John XXIII for showing “exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit” in convening the Second Vatican Council. "He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader... He was the pope of openness to the Spirit.
Francis described John Paul II as “the pope of the family” and said he hoped that the late Polish pope would guide and sustain him from heaven as the Church prepares for the October's synod on the family.
Concluding, Pope Francis said: “May these two saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family. May both of them teach us not to be scandalised 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.”
Around a million international pilgrims gathered in Rome for the event, many of whom had camped out in the streets around St. Peter’s square all night. Over 100 heads of state were present. The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester represented the Queen.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, a Catholic, was also present and was part of a long line of dignitaries who shook Francis' hand after the ceremony.
The decades-long process leading to today’s canonisations linked the two late popes to the two living ones.
John XXIII, who served as pope from 1958 to 1963, was beatified by John Paul II in 2000. John Paul II, who was pope from 1978 to 2005, was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on Divine Mercy Sunday, 1 May 2011. Last year, Pope Francis announced that both late popes would be made saints on Divine Mercy Sunday, a celebration, in turn, instituted by John Paul II.
Last night, pilgrims from around the world sang and prayed at churches around Rome. Tens of thousands of Poles arrived on Friday and yesterday by coach and spent the night on the streets around St Peter’s square. Pilgrims from the Italian province of Bergamo, where John XXIII was born, gathered for an all-night vigil at the basilica San Giovanni in Laterano.
Around five thousand people came to Rome from Bergamo. Danilo Colleoni, 68, became tearful as he recalled his late mother meeting the "Good Pope John".
“He is the symbol of Bergamo, the good and holy pope,” he said. “Bergamo is experiencing a very enthusing moment at this canonisation. John is the man who began to change the history of the Church … It is an emotional moment for me because my mother, who is no longer with us, met John when he was Patriarch of Venice. She was very moved.”
Early this morning, thousands of Poles were sleeping in the streets having travelled here by bus to honour Pope John Paul II. Thirty-year-old Anna Szewczuk from Lublin said John Paul was “the father for all of us, the most important person our country has ever produced.”
Above: Crowds packed St Peter's Square and the Via della Conciliazione; Francis pays tribute to both predecessors in his homily; reliquaries containing relics of the two new saints