The ascent to sainthood

The ascent to sainthood


Long lines of white-clad bishops formed just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Catholics who flocked to the Vatican to watch Pope Francis proclaim his predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II saints.

Cheers and applause rang out across St Peter's Square after the historic double canonisation of two towering figures of 20th Century Roman Catholicism.


Crowds filled St Peter’s Square and stretched back along Via della Conciliazione, the broad, half-kilometre boulevard that starts at the Tiber River. The Vatican said more than 500,000 people filled the basilica area while another 300,000 watched the event on large television screens throughout Rome.

Panorama Image
. VATICAN CITY, Vatican City. REUTERS/Max Rossi
. VATICAN CITY, Vatican City. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Pope Francis led the canonisation ceremony, during which he made the formal proclamation in Latin:

"We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enrol them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church."

. VATICAN CITY, Vatican City. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Pope Francis' own popularity has added extra appeal to the unprecedented ceremony to raise two former leaders of the church to sainthood.

But while both were widely revered, there has also been criticism that John Paul II, who only died nine years ago, has been canonised too quickly.

Groups representing victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests also say he did not do enough to root out a scandal that emerged towards the end of his pontificate and which has hung over the church ever since.

. VATICAN CITY, Vatican City. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano

The Mass was also attended by former Pope Benedict, who last year became the first pontiff in six centuries to step down.

His attendance gave the ceremony a somewhat surreal atmosphere created by the presence of reigning pope, a retired pope and two dead popes buried in the basilica. Francis went over to greet Benedict twice during the service.

. VATICAN CITY, Vatican City. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

In his address, Francis called both his predecessors men of courage.

"They lived through the tragic events of that (20th) century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful," he added.

John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, lived through both world wars.

John Paul II (pictured above) the Pole who reigned for nearly 27 years, witnessed the devastation of his homeland in World War Two and is credited by many with helping end the Cold War and bring down communism.

. VATICAN CITY, Vatican City. REUTERS/Max Rossi

The overwhelming majority in the crowd were Poles who had travelled from their home country and immigrant communities as far afield as Chicago and Sydney to watch their most famous native son become a saint.