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Pope Benedict Declares John Paul 'Blessed'

Pope Benedict XVI kneels in front of the coffin of the late Pope John Paul II inside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, May 1, 2011
Pope Benedict XVI kneels in front of the coffin of the late Pope John Paul II inside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, May 1, 2011

More than a million people descended on Rome to take part in the beatification ceremony of the late Pope John Paul II.

Throngs of people jammed Saint Peter’s Square, the boulevard leading up to it and nearby piazzas for the special beatification mass at the Vatican. Thousands camped out all night and took part in an all night prayer vigil at Circus Maximus.

People from all corners of the world prayed, sang hymns and waved their national flags. Many were Polish who came in to honor their native son. Attending the ceremony were 90 official delegations and 16 heads of state.

Also among the crowd was French nun, Sister Marie-Simon Pierre, who says she was miraculously cured from Parkinson’s disease after praying to the late pope.

Pope Benedict pronounced the beatification formula and a large portrait of a smiling Pope John Paul II was unveiled, to the applause of the large crowd.

Those who took part in the ceremony spoke of the privilege they felt to be present and of how much the Polish pope meant to them.

"He was so loving and just open and warm, and just looking at this face in pictures makes me remember the love he had for everyone," said one pilgrim.

"He’s like the traveling pope who wanted to reach out to every person and every human being on earth," remarked another.

In his homily, Pope Benedict called his predecessor an exemplary son of Poland who, through his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian. Pope Benedict said his own service was sustained by John Paul’s spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights.

The pope also spoke of John Paul’s witness in suffering. He said the Lord gradually stripped John Paul of everything, yet he remained ever a "rock," as Christ desired.

His profound humility, Pope Benedict added, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message that became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined.

Sunday’s beatification ceremony took place despite criticism about the record speed with which John Paul was being honored, and continued outrage about clerical abuse. Critics say he mishandled the sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church.

Vatican officials have insisted that John Paul deserved to be put on the road to sainthood saying this process is not a judgment of how he administered the church but rather whether he lived a life of Christian virtue.

John Paul's beatification means he has had a miracle attributed to his intercession. Another miracle will need to be recognized for him to become a saint.