The late Pope, John Paul II, has been beatified at a special mass in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, effectively setting him well on the way to sainthood. He died in 2005.
Police estimate that more than a million people crowded into Rome for the mass, officiated by the present Pope Benedict the 16th.
John Paul’s coffin was taken from the crypt and put on display for the service to allow followers to pay their respects.
It was an emotional day for many as they remembered John Paul II, one of the most popular popes of the 20th century.
Born in Poland as Karel Woljtya, he lived what the Catholic church deemed a life of extreme holiness.
But beatification requires a miracle and one was provided in the person of Sister Marie-Simon Pierre Normand. The French nun claims Pope John Paul II cured her of Parkinson’s Disease, after interceding with God in Heaven when she prayed to him after his death.
During Sunday’s ceremony a vial of his blood was carried by Sister Marie, representing the life on earth of John Paul II. In fact much of the ceremony concentrated on his pastoral life, from his extraordinary difficult childhood when virtually all of his family passed away, through his clandestine theological studies during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
He was also praised for his ability to retain Catholic orthodoxy while at the same time managing to make the church appear more modern and bring Christ into the lives of young people.
He is effectively being fast-tracked towards sainthood, a process made simpler with reforms made by himself when he was Pope.
There has been some criticism of the speed of the process especially from groups representing victims of clerical child abuse.
John Paul II was Pope for 27 years when many of these allegations came to light. But all in all it seems there was great support for his beatification.
In order for the Vatican to deem him eligible for canonisation as a saint, the church needs to be convinced that he performed a second miracle.
Over 250 claims are currently being investigated.
Meanwhile our correspondent in Rome, Enrico Bona, says that although the service may be over the pilgrimmage goes on.
“While the faithful are leaving St. Peter’s Square, a new queue has formed outside the entrance of the basilica. Those who wish can pray before the remains of John Paul II, now beatified, in front of the altar where for years he celebrated the mass”