Crowds Of Faithful Jam Vatican To Honor Pope John Paul II

Catholic faithful from around the world poured into Rome on Sunday as the Catholic Church declares Pope John Paul II "blessed," a step below sainthood.

There were cheers as Pope Benedict XVI personally beatified his predecessor, and a huge tapestry protrait of John Paul II was unveiled, showing him as the healthy, vigorous and relatively young man he was early in his papacy.

A vial of John Paul II's blood was placed before the crowds, which were expected to be the largest in the Vatican since the late pope's funeral in 2005.

The blood, which was taken from him by doctors during his final illness for possible transfusion, but never used, was displayed in a specially made silver reliquary.

Next came requests -- first in English and then Polish -- that people put down their banners and flags, and pray silently.

"In heaven a very different celebration is taking place among the angels and saints!" Benedict declared in his homily.

The current pope echoed the many who credit the Polish-born pope with playing a key role in the defeat of Communism, saying he turned "back with the strength of a titan -- a strength which came to him from God -- a tide which appeared irreversible."