The Day of the Popes; Pope Francis Yesterday Declared Two of His Predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, Saints in an Unprecedented Canonisation Ceremony Made Even More Historic by the Presence of Retired Pope Benedict XVI. the Occasion, Seen All over the World, Was Hailed as an Astute Unifying Move by Francis. DAVID LUCAS Reports

The Journal (Newcastle, England), April 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Day of the Popes; Pope Francis Yesterday Declared Two of His Predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, Saints in an Unprecedented Canonisation Ceremony Made Even More Historic by the Presence of Retired Pope Benedict XVI. the Occasion, Seen All over the World, Was Hailed as an Astute Unifying Move by Francis. DAVID LUCAS Reports


IT was the day of four popes. A historic occasion, garlanded with all the pomp that the Roman Catholic church could muster.

Yesterday's canonisation of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II is being seen not just as a recognition of two towering figures in the recent history of the church.

There was also a sense of a Church moving into a new era after time of difficulty and drift.

And there is no question who is leading the Church into that new era - Pope Francis.

Francis was a largely unknown quantity when elected 13 months ago.

He had barely merited a mention among Vatican-watchers' speculations as to the identity of the new pope after Benedict XVI took the astonishing decision to stand down.

At 76, the new pope didn't seem the ideal candidate to open a new era for the Roman Catholic Church.

Yet, within the tight constraints that he faces, he has unquestionably turned over a new leaf.

Yesterday was the latest step in that process.

Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the Vatican for a historic day of four popes, with Francis and Benedict XVI honouring their predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II and declaring them saints in the first ever canonisation of two pontiffs.

While the ceremony itself was remarkable, it was Benedict's presence that added to its historic nature.

Never before have a reigning and retired pope celebrated Mass together in public, much less an event honouring two of their most famous predecessors.

Benedict's presence at the event yesterday was also a reflection of the balancing act that Francis envisioned when he decided to canonise John and John Paul together, showing the unity of the Catholic Church by honouring popes beloved to conservatives and progressives alike. Benedict, 87, arrived in St. Peter's Square on his own to cheers and applause from the crowd. Wearing white vestments and white bishops' mitre, he took his seat offto the side with other cardinals but stood to greet Italy's president as he arrived for the Mass.

Italy's interior ministry predicted one million people would watch the Mass from the square, the streets surrounding it and nearby piazzas where giant TV screens were set up to accommodate the crowds eager to follow along.

By the time the ceremony began, Via della Conciliazione, the main boulevard leading from the square, Turn to Page 16 nearby streets and the bridges across the Tiber River were packed.

Polish pilgrims carrying the red and white flags of John Paul's beloved homeland had been among the first to push into the square well before sunrise, as the human chains of neon-vested civil protection workers trying to maintain order finally gave up and let them in.

"Four popes in one ceremony is a fantastic thing to see and to be at, because it is history being written in our sight," marvelled one of the visiting Poles, David Halfar. "It is wonderful to be a part in this and to live all of this."

Most of those who arrived first at St Peter's had camped out overnight nearby on air mattresses and sleeping pads. Others had not slept at all and took part in the all-night prayer vigils hosted at a dozen churches in downtown Rome.

By mid-morning, the scene in the square was quiet and subdued -perhaps due to the chilly grey skies and cumulative lack of sleep -unlike the lively party atmosphere of John Paul's May 2011 beatification when bands of young people sang and danced in the hours before the Mass.

The Vatican on Saturday ended weeks of speculation and confirmed that Benedict would indeed participate in the canonisation. Benedict had promised to remain "hidden from the world" after resigning last year, but Francis has coaxed him out of retirement and urged him to take part in the public life of the church.

In a dress rehearsal of sorts, Benedict attended the February ceremony in which Francis installed 19 new cardinals. …

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The Day of the Popes; Pope Francis Yesterday Declared Two of His Predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, Saints in an Unprecedented Canonisation Ceremony Made Even More Historic by the Presence of Retired Pope Benedict XVI. the Occasion, Seen All over the World, Was Hailed as an Astute Unifying Move by Francis. DAVID LUCAS Reports
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