Pope Francis named two distinctive papal predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, as saints before a congregation of hundreds of thousands of witnesses in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City on Sunday, during an unprecedented service that was attended by Pope Benedict XVI. Historically, two former popes had never been canonized together, and a retired pope and a reigning pope had never celebrated Mass together in public.
Popes John and John Paul were revered by Catholic traditionalists and progressives alike, and Francis’ inclusion of Benedict during Sunday’s proceedings was symbolic of a sense of unity in the Catholic Church the present day Vatican strives to espouse. After resigning his post last year, Pope Benedict declared he would remain “hidden from the world,” but Francis was able to convince him to participate in the public life of the church.
During the canonization ceremony, Pope Francis paused and took a breath before reciting a Latin prayer, and then announced, “we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be saints and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church.” Applause erupted from the crowd of almost 800,000, which spanned St. Peter’s to the Tiber River.
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Kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers from over 90 countries attended Sunday’s ceremony, and roughly twenty Jewish leaders from the U.S., Israel, Italy, Argentina and Poland also arrived, indicative of an appreciation of the forwards made in Catholic-Jewish relations under John, John Paul, Benedict and Francis.
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