Pope John XXIII has been warmly remembered by his 98-year-old former secretary, who described in a tribute ahead of Sunday’s canonisations how his friend retained a child-like innocence and happiness until the day he died in 1963.
Cardinal Loris Capovilla, for many years the personal secretary of the “good pope” John XXIII, paid tribute from the Bergamo province of Italy where the late pope was born.
Speaking by video-link, Cardinal Capovilla introduced himself "this old priest" and said he was speaking from the house of John XXIII, Ca' Maitino in Sotto Il Monte.
"I feel the greatness and beauty of this hour that we are living," he said, adding that he tells children that John XXIII was like them. "He was 81 years and 6 months old [when he died]. But I have to say I didn't see an old man of 81 years old and 6 months dying. I saw a child dying, because he had shining eyes like yours...and he had a smile on his lips like yours...He lived humbly, he loved simply."
The tribute to the pope came as a Vatican source confirmed to The Tablet that Pope Francis had sought to ensure that the instigator of Vatican II, John XXIII, is canonised on Sunday alongside John Paul II to balance the differing wings of the Church.
More than a million people are expected in Rome this weekend for the ceremony tomorrow morning.
An all-night prayer vigil in churches across the city will mark the start of proceedings tonight, including one beginning at 5pm at the basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. This will be followed by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and an exhibition of items related to Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. At other churches, confessions will be heard in multiple languages.
While thousands of volunteers prepare to hand out free bottles of water and liturgical booklets, seventeen giant video screens are being erected around the city, which will broadcast the ceremony live at 10am tomorrow. One of the screens is at the Terminal 3 departure lounge of Rome’s Fiumicino airport, which is seeing thousands of pilgrims arrive from around the world. The area around the Vatican will be closed to traffic.
Some 19 heads of state and 24 heads of government will attend the ceremony. The Queen will be represented by the Duke of Gloucester, who also attended the beatification of John Paul II in 2011.
For more details on the canonisations go to the official website of the event, 2popesaints.org.