The late Pope John Paul II was moved a major step closer to sainthood yesterday 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 him 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; the union’s leader, Lech Walesa, was among the dignitaries in St Peter’s Square.