VATICAN CITY – Before hundreds of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, the late Pope John Paul II was beatified Sunday in a ceremony that declared him “blessed” and put him one step closer to sainthood.
The audience erupted in applause when Pope Benedict XVI recited the words that elevated his predecessor, whose huge portrait was then unveiled over the doorway of the basilica.
A choir broke into a chorus of “Amens” as some in the crowd wept. The French nun whose healing from Parkinson’s disease was called a miracle performed by John Paul presented Benedict with a reliquary containing a vial of the late pope’s blood, which will become an object of veneration.
The beatification, just six years after John Paul’s death on April 2, 2005, was the fastest in modern times. Benedict waived the usual five-year waiting period before the lengthy canonization process is supposed to begin, a decision that some have criticized as hasty and political.
But the devotees who thronged the square and the streets leading into it dismissed such criticism, focusing instead on the positive legacy of a man who stood up to communism, traveled the world to renew the faith and survived a 1981 assassination attempt.
“He was admired as a saint when he was alive,” said Beata Klepacka, 31, a doctor who came to Rome from London with her family to attend the ceremony.
The ceremony is likely to provide a morale boost for the Roman Catholic Church, which has been rocked in recent years by allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
Beatification is the last step before full sainthood. To achieve that status, John Paul must be determined by the Vatican to have performed another miracle besides the curing of the nun with Parkinson’s disease.