Pope Beatifies John Paul II Before 1.5M Faithful

Some 1.5 million pilgrims flooded Rome Sunday to watch Pope John Paul II move a step closer to sainthood in one of the largest Vatican Masses in history, an outpouring of adoration for a beloved and historic figure after years marred by church scandal.

Cardinals kiss the casket of late Pope John Paul II, laid out in state at the Altar of the Confession inside St. Peter's Basilica

Some 1.5 million pilgrims flooded Rome Sunday to watch Pope John Paul II move a step closer to sainthood in one of the largest Vatican Masses in history, an outpouring of adoration for a beloved and historic figure after years marred by church scandal.

The turnout for the beatification far exceeded even the most optimistic expectation of 1 million people, the number Rome city officials predicted. For Catholics filling St. Peter's Square and its surrounding streets, and for those watching around the world the beatification was a welcome hearkening back to the days when the pope was almost universally beloved.

"He was like a king to us, like a father," Marynka Ulaszewska, a 28-year-old from Ciechocinek, Poland, said, weeping. "I hope these emotions will remain with us for a long time," she said.

Pope Benedict XVI praised John Paul for turning back the seemingly "irreversible" tide of communism with faith, courage and "the strength of a titan, a strength which came to him from God."
A woman holds a photograph of late Pope John Paul II after Mass commemorating his beatification outside the cathedral in La Paz, Bolivia, Sunday, May 1,
John Paul is universally credited with helping bring down communism in his native Poland with support for the Solidarity labor movement, accelerating the fall of the Iron Curtain.

"He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress," Benedict said. "He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope."John Paul's beatification, the fastest in modern times, has however triggered a new wave of anger from sex-abuse victims because much of the criminality occurred during his 27-year watch. Critics also say John Paul's legacy is clouded by evidence of a dwindling faith: empty churches in Europe, too few priests in North and South America, priests who violate their celibacy requirement in places like Africa and a general decline of Catholicism in former Christian strongholds.

John Paul's defenders argue that an entire generation of new priests owe their vocations to John Paul, and that millions of lay Catholics found their faith during the World Youth Days, which were a hallmark of his papacy.
A woman holds a photograph of late Pope John Paul II during a Mass commemorating his beatification at the cathedral in La Paz, Bolivia, Sunday, May 1,… Read more »
Vatican officials have insisted that the saint-making process isn't a judgment of how John Paul administered the church but rather whether he lived a life of Christian virtue.

Benedict put John Paul on the fast-track for possible sainthood when he dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the beatification process to begin weeks after his April 2, 2005, death. Benedict was responding to chants of "Santo Subito!" or "Sainthood Immediately" which erupted during John Paul's funeral.

With a sea of red and white Polish flags fluttering in the square, the beatification Sunday evoked the days after the pope's death in 2005, when some 3 million faithful held vigil under his studio window and filed past his remains for days on end.

Pilgrims from Mexico to Mali repeated the procession after the Mass Sunday, for hours filing past the simple wooden coffin that had been raised from the grottoes underneath St. Peter's Basilica to the church's center aisle, where it was surrounded by four Swiss Guards standing at attention.
Catholics priests are given framed images of the late Pope John Paul II during an open-air Mass commemorating his beatification, in Granada, Nicaragua,… Read more »
Beatification is the last major milestone before a candidate is declared a saint. John Paul needs another miracle attributed to his intercession before he can be canonized.

Already, Vatican officials have said reports of inexplicable cures were pouring in, suggesting it is only a matter of time before John Paul is declared a saint, or even a doctor of the church — an even greater honor.

Police placed wide swaths of Rome miles (kilometers) from the Vatican off limits to private cars to ensure security for the estimated 16 heads of state, eight prime ministers and five members of European royal houses attending.

Helicopters flew overhead, police boats patrolled the nearby Tiber River and some 5,000 uniformed troops manned police barricades to ensure priests, official delegations and those with coveted VIP passes could get to their places amid the throngs of pilgrims.

Spain's Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia, wearing a black lace mantilla, mingled with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Poland's historic Solidarity leader and former President Lech Walesa and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who sidestepped a European Union travel ban to attend.
Worshippers take part in a ceremony to mark the Beatification of the late Pope John Paul II in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Latin Christians marked… Read more »"He went all over the world," said Bishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, who came to Rome for the ceremony. "Today, we're coming to him."

Many in Rome and in capitals around the world erupted in cheers, tears and applause as Benedict pronounced John Paul "Blessed" and an enormous color photo of a young, smiling John Paul was unveiled over the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica.

"John Paul is an angel, he has such charisma," said Esperanza Concilion, a 69-year-old hairdresser who traveled from Guadalajara, Mexico for the beatification.

Catholics jammed churches from Mexico to Australia to pray and watch broadcasts of the Rome Mass on television.

"He was a model and an inspiration who united the world with his extraordinary charisma," said John Paul Bustillo, a 16-year-old medical student named after the pontiff who turned out Sunday along with more than 3,000 others for a six-mile (10-kilometer) race followed by a Mass near Manila Bay in the Philippines.
A general view of St Peter's square during John Paul II beatification ceremony at The Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI bestowed the status of "blessed"… Read more »
In Brazil, which has more Roman Catholics than any other nation, the beatification resonated among the faithful and sparked hope that it might renew faith in the church in the South American nation which is facing stiff competition for souls from evangelical Protestant movements.

"The beatification is going to renovate the faith of those who may have lost their way and left the church," said Adimir Godoy, as he left a Sunday mass at the Santa Cecilia church in central Sao Paulo. "We were all blessed by the life of Pope John Paul and he deserves to be a saint."

AP