FOR THE SECOND straight day, on Monday Roman Catholic faithful filled St Peter’s Square in an outpouring of thanks for the fast beatification of John Paul II, a joyous celebration of the much-loved late pontiff.
“We thank the Lord for having given us a saint like himself,” Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s No. 2, said to a cheering crowd estimated by the Vatican at 60,000, more than half of them from John Paul’s native Poland.
The beatification Sunday, the fastest in modern history, came six years after John Paul’s 2005 funeral drew calls of “Santo Subito!” or “Sainthood Immediately!” It drew 1.5 million people from across the globe, one of the largest Vatican celebrations ever and a testament to the popularity of the globe-trotting and charismatic pope.
The Mass on Monday began with a procession in St. Peter’s Square of bishops and cardinals in gold and white vestments. They walked beneath a large colorful photo of a youthful John Paul that was unveiled in an emotional moment during the beatification and now hangs from the loggia of the basilica.
One cleric carried aloft a relic, a vial of blood taken from John Paul for medical tests shortly before his death. A key feature of beatification ceremonies, the relic will be available for the faithful to venerate.
Pope John Paul II’s longtime secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, thanked Pope Benedict XVI for responding to the call of the faithful for the speedy beatification. The Polish cardinal also recalled that John Paul had “shed his blood for the cause of Christ” in the same square 30 years ago when he was wounded in an attempted assassination by a Turkish gunman.
In his homily, Bertone recalled how John Paul, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, served as a model of saintly life when he lost “his physical strength, his expressiveness, the ability to move, even his speech.”
“He knew that his physical weakness showed even more clearly the Christ who works in history,” Bertone said
Among the faithful in the square was a Polish priest, Jozef Maciag, who said he wanted to thank John Paul for his role in helping bring down communism, and for giving him the inspiration to devote his own life to God.
“I came here to thank God for the pope’s ministry, which touched my own life,” Maciag said.
After Monday’s Mass, the basilica opened again to allow the faithful to file past John Paul’s simple wooden coffin, which was placed in front of the main altar and flanked by four Swiss Guards.
The Vatican said more than 250,000 people paid their respects between Sunday’s beatification Mass and 3 a.m. Monday, when the basilica was closed. The pope had been buried in the grottoes underneath the church, but his closed casket was brought to the church’s center aisle ahead of the beatification.
Later Monday, in a private ceremony, the late pope will be moved to his new resting place in the basilica near Michelangelo’s famed “Pieta” marble sculpture.