Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pope John Paul II is one step closer to sainthood

The beloved leader of the Catholic Church, who died in 2005, was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI early Sunday morning.

Pope John Paul II is one step closer to sainthood.

The beloved leader of the Catholic Church, who died in 2005, was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI early Sunday morning.

More than a million people gathered in and around St. Peter's Square for the ceremony.

“He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope,” Benedict said during his homily. He also praised John Paul as having had "the strength of a titan" and who gave millions of people "the strength to believe."

Beatification is the first major milestone on the path to possible sainthood, one of the Catholic Church's highest honors. A second miracle attributed to John Paul's intercession is needed for him to be canonized.

Many of those who gathered in Rome were from Poland, Pope John Paul's native country. Flags and banners with the eastern European country's red and white could be seen peppered among the crowd.

"We were at the funeral and we just had to be here to see him beatified," said Janusc Skibinski, 40, who drove 29 hours with his family from their home near the border with Belarus.

Hundreds of thousands gather in St. Peter's Square. (Antonio Calanni/AP)

Video montages shown during the vigil highlighted various moments of John Paul's lengthy pontificate, his teachings about marriage and justice. One of the first shown was of his final Easter, when he was unable to speak from his studio window, too hobbled by Parkinson's, and only managed a weak blessing of the crowd.

John Paul became Pope in 1978. Upon his passing at the age of 84, he was the second-longest serving Pope in the Church's history.

His beatification is considered the fastest in modern times. A little too fast, some say.

Liberals in the church feel John Paul was too harsh with theological dissenters who wanted to help the poor, particularly in Latin America. Some also believe he should be held ultimately responsible for sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic church, because they occurred or came to light when he was in charge.

Ultra-Conservatives say he was too open toward other religions and that he allowed the liturgy to be "infected" by local cultures, such as African dancing, on his trips abroad.


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