Pope John Paul II beatified before massive crowd

Sun May 1, 2011 2:15pm EDT
 
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By Philip Pullella and Catherine Hornby

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The late Pope John Paul II was moved a major step closer to sainthood on Sunday at a ceremony that drew about a million and a half people to Rome and was celebrated by Catholics around the world.

"From now on Pope John Paul II shall be called 'blessed,'" Pope Benedict proclaimed in Latin, bringing cheers to the largest crowd in Rome since John Paul's funeral six years ago.

Benedict praised his predecessor as a man who "restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope."

John Paul, who was the first non-Italian pontiff in 450 years and brought a message of peace to every continent on more than 100 foreign trips, died in 2005 and his sainthood cause was given fast-track treatment by his successor.

He is credited with having hastened the fall of communism in the East Bloc in 1989 because of his strong support for the Solidarity trade union in his native Poland, whose leader, Lech Walesa, was among the dignitaries in St Peter's Square.

In Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said John Paul had brought about a "miracle" in the former communist country.

The crowd in Rome stretched as far back as the Tiber River, more than half a kilometer away. Devotees, many clinging to national flags, rosaries and water bottles as they sang, thronged the Vatican from all directions from before dawn.

Many camped out during the night near the square, which was bedecked with 27 posters illustrating each year of his pontificate, and his most famous sayings, "Do not be afraid!"   Continued...

 
<p>Pope Benedict XVI kisses a baby as he arrives to celebrate a mass for the beatification of Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican May 1, 2011. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano</p>