Acknowledging the desire of Catholics throughout the world to see John Paul II declared a saint, Pope Benedict XVI took another step in that process by beatifying his predecessor in a solemn yet joyful ceremony in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, May 1, 2011.
The million or more faithful gathered outside St. Peter’s Basilica and lining the streets of Rome responded with exuberant cheers as Benedict officially declared, “From now on Pope John Paul shall be called blessed,” and established the late pontiff's feast day as October 22 – the day of his inauguration to the papacy in 1978.
Among those gathered for the beatification ceremony was Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, representing the 1.8 million Knights of Columbus throughout the world, including those in the pope’s homeland of Poland. Anderson had met with John Paul II on a number of occasions and was appointed by the pope to key Vatican advisory bodies. In multiple media interviews with several media outlets, including Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Time magazine, Anderson said that the late pope’s legacy includes his dedication to a “civilization of love” and peace, and his calls for the laity to build up the Church and transform society in accordance with Gospel values.
The supreme knight also visited the casket of the late pope in St. Peter’s Basilica. With the help of the Vatican’s Fabbrica di San Pietro, a bound volume of messages from young Catholics that were received by the Knights of Columbus through the Order’s news website Catholic Pulse was placed directly on the casket. The personal messages were submitted by members of the “John Paul II Generation” who grew up during his long pontificate and owe so much of their faith and vision for the Church to the pope who inaugurated World Youth Day and held young people especially in his heart.
In a moving and personal homily that drew from the day’s scriptural readings and his long-time collaboration and friendship with John Paul II, Pope Benedict recalled the Funeral Mass for the late pontiff six years ago and the popular opinion – expressed by the words “Santo Subito” (Sainthood Now) – that his predecessor should be placed immediately on the path to sainthood. Responding to this sentiment, soon after being elected in 2005, Pope Benedict waived the usual five-year waiting period to begin the canonization process.
“And now the longed for day has come,” Benedict said in his homily. “It came quickly because this is what was pleasing to the Lord: John Paul II is blessed!”
He noted that the beatification was being held on Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast which John Paul II instituted on the Sunday after Easter, reflecting the late pontiff’s devotion to Divine Mercy messages popularized by the Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska, whom he canonized as the first saint of the new millennium in April of 2000.
In deeply personal comments, Benedict recalled his long association with the late pope during his years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “I was at his side and came to revere him all the more,” he said. “My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me.”
Benedict concluded his homily by addressing his predecessor in heaven: “Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people. You often blessed us in this Square from the Apostolic Palace: Bless us, Holy Father! Amen.”
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