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Beatification of John Paul II: summary

Catholic World News - May 02, 2011

Pope John Paul II “restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope,” Pope Benedict XVI said at the May 1 beatification of the Polish Pontiff.

Well over 1 million people crowded into St. Peter’s Square, and spilled over into the surrounding streets of Rome, for the May 1 beatification. Six years earlier, an even larger congregation had broken into shouts of Santo subito! at the conclusion of the funeral for the beloved Pontiff. Now the people burst into warm applause as Pope Benedict recited the formula of beatification, and a huge tapestry depicting Blessed John Paul II was unfurled from the balcony of the Vatican basilica.

In his homily Pope Benedict alluded to the popular demands for the prompt beatification of his predecessor. At the time of the funeral in April 2005, he said, “we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God’s People showed their veneration for him.” It was because of that clear popular sense of veneration, the Pope said, “with all due respect for the Church’s canonical norms, I wanted his cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste.”

Pope Benedict went on to note that the date of the beatification provided an ideal time for honoring John Paul II. May 1, he pointed out, is the first day of the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom the late Pontiff had such a deep devotion. On the ordinary liturgical calendar it is also the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, and thus recalls not only the early years of Karol Wojtyla as a manual laborer in wartime Poland, but also the efforts of the Pope to promote greater understanding of the dignity of human labor. And in 2011, May 1 was the 2nd Sunday of Easter, the feast of Divine Mercy: a feast that Pope John Paul II had proclaimed for the universal Church. As a final indication that the date was unusually appropriate, Pope Benedict reminded the congregation that his predecessor had died on the eve of the feast of Divine Mercy in 2005, shortly after the singing of Vespers for the feast.

The Vatican reported that 87 countries had sent formal delegations to attend the beatification. There we 16 heads of state in attendance, including the presidents of Poland and Italy, and 7 prime ministers. The hotels of Rome were almost completely booked for the weekend of the beatification, with some hotels commanding prices more than double their usual rates. Church-run hostels were also full, and hundreds of pilgrims apparently spent Saturday night on the streets in Rome, waiting for the earliest opportunity to claim a spot in St. Peter’s Square when it was opened early Sunday morning. For the tens of thousands of people who could not squeeze into St. Peter’s Square, giant television screens were set up at the Circus Maximus and at other public places around Rome.

The Circus Maximus had been the scene of the first major public event celebrating the beatification, on Saturday evening, April 30. About 200,000 people participated in a vigil of music, testimony, and prayer honoring John Paul II. Interspersed with hymns and poetry, and videos recalling different aspects of the life of John Paul II, the crowd heard from several speakers whose lives were entwined with the life of the late Pontiff.

The crowd at the Circus Maximus then joined in reciting the Rosary, using the Luminous Mysteries bequeathed to the Church by John Paul II. During his phase of the evening’s ceremony, the group in Rome was linked by video feeds to crowds in five Marian sanctuaries around the world: in Lagiewniki, Poland; Bugando, Tanzania; Hariss, Lebanon, Guadalupe, Mexico; and Fatima, Portugal. Each of the groups at these shrines was assigned a decade of the Rosary, for an intention that had been central to the prayers of John Paul II. Before each decade, the crowd saw videos of the late Pope, speaking about these intentions.

The evening’s formal program concluded with another video message, this time from Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father closed the vigil with a blessing, and a prayer to the Virgin Mary: “Help us always to account for the hope that is in us, with trust in the goodness of humanity created by God in His image and in the Father's love.”

However, even after the crowd left the Circus Maximus, the prayer surrounding the beatification ceremonies continued. Scores of young volunteers from the Rome diocese patrolled the streets of the city, urging pilgrims to join in Eucharistic adoration at any one of eight churches that were opened all night for that purpose. Priests were also available to hear confessions at those churches late into the night.

On Sunday morning, St. Peter’s Square was packed by 9 o’clock, when the Divine Mercy devotions were scheduled. At 10, Pope Benedict presided as Mass was celebrated. Following the penitential rite, Cardinal Vallini—joined by Msgr. Slawomir Oder, the postulator for the late Pope’s cause—formally asked the Pontiff to proceed with the beatification. Cardinal Vallini then read a brief biography of John Paul II, and the stage was set for the act of beatification.

''The longed-for day has come,'' said Pope Benedict. ''It came quickly because this was pleasing to the Lord. John Paul II is blessed.”

In his homily, Pope Benedict drew attention to several salient aspects of his predecessor’s spirituality and his teaching. He mentioned the late Pope’s motto, “Totus tuus,” which was “drawn from the well-known words of St. Louis Marie Gignion de Montfort in which Karol Wojtyla found a guiding light for his life,” and a key to his Marian devotion.

Pope Benedict also cited the words of another Polish prelate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, who said at the conclave of October 1978: “The task of the new Pope will be to lead the Church into the 3rd millennium.” Pope John Paul II took up that challenge with vigor, Benedict XVI observed, and devoted much of his papal ministry to the preparation for, and celebration of, the Jubilee Year 2000.

Another key to the understanding of John Paul II, Pope Benedict said, is the recognition that “he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man.” Pope John Paul lived to see the collapse of Soviet Communism, the Pope said, and he strove to place Christian faith in the vacuum left by the downfall of atheistic materialism. “He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress.”

Later, after the conclusion of the Mass, Pope Benedict spoke again about the example set by his predecessor. At his Regina Caeli audience, Pope Benedict prayed in French that “the life and work of Blessed John Paul II be the source of a renewed dedication to the service of all persons and all humankind.” He offered similar prayers in English, Spanish, and Polish, before closing in Italian with a word of thanks to all those involved in planning the beatification ceremonies.

When he finally left St. Peter’s Square at the end of the lengthy ceremony, Pope Benedict stopped to pray in the Vatican basilica at the coffin of Blessed John Paul II, which had been placed in front of the Altar of Confession. During the afternoon and late into Sunday night, an estimated 250,000 people filed past the coffin to venerate the remains of the newly beatified Pontiff.

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: koinonia - May. 03, 2011 10:45 PM ET USA

    When all is said and done, it all comes down to faith. No matter one's opinion of Pope John Paul II or his pontificate, there is one stark reality: Among the Church's canonized pontiffs, he was different. Christians, Jews, Agnostics etc. are nearly uniform in this assessment. What this means for the future Church is yet a mystery- a mystery of faith. All I can say is I would just like to have been a fly on the wall when Pope JP II explained to Pope St. Pius V et al why he kissed the Koran.

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - May. 02, 2011 7:52 PM ET USA

    This is an excellent summary of a magnificent weekend.

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