John Paul II beatified
VATICAN CITY — Some 1.5 million pilgrims flooded Rome today 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 streets and watching around the world, the beatification was a welcome hearkening back to the days when the pope was almost universally beloved.
Pope Benedict XVI, who has set off controversies with remarks on Islam, contraception, and other issues, 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.”
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 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 left behind 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 dwindling of the faith 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.
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. (AP)