MANILA, Philippines — Catholics worldwide celebrated the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II on Sunday, with the faithful jamming churches to pray, cherishing his mementoes and witnessing on TV screens the Vatican ceremony that brought him one step closer to possible sainthood.
From Mexico to Australia, bells pealed in churches and cathedrals and people erupted in applause and tears to celebrate after Pope Benedict XVI bestowed one of the Catholic Church’s greatest honors to Polish-born Karol Wojtyla, who visited 129 countries in his 27-year papacy to become the most-traveled pope ever.
In the Philippines, where many adore the John Paul II with rock-star intensity, people flocked to see mementoes: a piece of his cassock believed to have healing powers and a set of plate, spoon and fork — still unwashed after he used them 16 years ago during a visit to the country.
The popular pontiff has a wide following in the Philippines, Asia’s largest predominantly Roman Catholic nation where authorities foiled a terrorist plot to assassinate him during a visit in 1995. Nearly 10,000 babies were named after him after his visits as a pope, according to a news report.
Although John Paul’s beatification has been criticized elsewhere by some as happening too fast and under a cloud over the clerical sex abuse scandal, it’s being celebrated by many Filipinos as rare good news at a time of depressing man-made and natural disasters in their impoverished homeland and beyond.
“Why not?” asked John Paul Bustillo, a 16-year-old medical student named by his mother after the pontiff and turned out Sunday along with more than 3,000 for a six-mile (10-kilometer) race followed by a Mass near Manila Bay. “He was a model and an inspiration who united the world with his extraordinary charisma.”
A popular church in Manila’s downtown Quiapo district is displaying a small piece of a cassock worn by the late pope and given by a Vatican official to a Filipino priest. Thousands have lined up to touch or kiss the scant piece. Another such piece of clothing, also from the Vatican, has reportedly cured several patients at a state-run Manila hospital, said Monsignor Jose Clemente Ignacio, who heads the Quiapo church.
A Chinese restaurant in the capital’s suburban Quezon City has displayed a set of plates, spoon, fork, water goblet and knives — still unwashed after the pope used them in a 1995 dinner of grilled fish and fried shrimp that the restaurant’s staff catered.
“He was the most important VIP I have ever served in my life,” Leo Matias told The Associated Press, adding that the pope allowed him and seven other waiters to kiss his ring.
In John Paul’s native Poland, tens of thousands of people gathered in rain in a major sanctuary in Krakow and in Wadowice, where the pontiff was born in 1920. Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his wife Malgorzata watched the ceremony together with Wadowice residents.
Hundreds of Australians gathered at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney to celebrate the beatification, with special prayer services being held inside and a carnival atmosphere outside in the grounds.
Live coverage of the ceremonies in Rome was being broadcast on a giant screen in the cathedral’s forecourt, with food stalls selling treats and music groups performing.
Cardinal George Pell said he had no doubt that John Paul II would be canonized — officially declared a saint — but noted it was a long process.
“He’ll be declared blessed, there’ll be a pause — I don’t know three years, five years, some period of time, before he’s canonized,” Pell said. “But he’s making pretty good time.”
The Vatican’s complicated saint-making procedures require that a miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession be confirmed before beatification, and a second one for canonization.
In South Korea, about 800 Catholics attended a mass celebrating the beautification at a church in Hwaseong, just south of Seoul on Sunday. A similar celebratory Mass is scheduled at another Catholic church near Seoul on Thursday and a delegation of 107 South Korean Catholics traveled to Rome to witness the rites.
John Paul visited South Korea twice — in 1984 and 1989.
Thousands of Mexicans held a prayer vigil in Mexico City’s Virgin of Guadalupe Basilica on Saturday while two large screens inside the church projected the celebrations in Rome.
Jorge Lopez Barcenas, a 70-year-old painter and body shop worker, traveled from central Hidalgo state to witness the beatification from the Basilica.
“He was a person who elevated the faith,” said Lopez, who saw the pope during two of his five visits to the country.
On Saturday night, dozens of mainly young people gathered at the Basilica to wait overnight for the culmination of John Paul II’s beatification.
Michelle Lopez, 19, told The AP she first saw John Paul II from a distance as a girl during his 1999 visit and he has been an important figure in her life ever since.
“He looked like a small porcelain doll, very nice,” she said.
In 2002, during his final visit, pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego as the first indigenous saint in the Americas. The Virgin of Guadalupe is said to have appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 on a hill where an important Aztec goddess had been worshipped.
Mexico was the third most-visited country by the pope after Poland and France.