Pope John Paul II to be beatified before big crowd

Sat Apr 30, 2011 6:38pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella and Catherine Hornby

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope John Paul II moves a step closer to sainthood on Sunday when his successor beatifies him before an expected crowd of several hundred thousand people. Pilgrims from all over the world, many from the pope's native Poland, have flocked to Rome to witness the beatification mass and take part in the biggest event in the Italian capital since the late pope's funeral in 2005.

Groups carrying national flags and singing songs have gathered over the weekend where the ceremony will take place, in St Peter's Square, which is bedecked with posters and photos of the late pope.

Up to 200,000 people attended a prayer vigil on Saturday evening in the Circus Maximus, the huge oval once used by the ancient Romans for chariot races. Some Rome churches threw their doors open all night to give pilgrims a space to pray.

John Paul's successor Pope Benedict XVI will pronounce a Latin formula on Sunday declaring one of the most popular popes in history a "blessed" of the Church.

A place of honor is reserved for Sister Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, a French nun who suffered from Parkinson's disease but whose inexplicable cure has been attributed to John Paul's intercession with God to perform a miracle, thus permitting the beatification to go ahead.

The Vatican will have to attribute another miracle to John Paul's intercession after the beatification in order for him to be declared a saint.

Some 90 official delegations from around the world, including members of five European royal families and 16 heads of state, will attend the beatification.

They include Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has been widely criticized for human rights abuses in his country. Mugabe is banned from traveling to the European Union, but the Vatican -- a sovereign state -- is not a member of the bloc.   Continued...

<p>Nuns hold candles during a prayer vigil at the ancient Circus Maximus arena in Rome April 30, 2011. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico</p>