MANILA, MAY 2, 2011 (STAR) (Photo shows the crowd in Saint Peter's Square during the beatification Mass for Pope John Paul II led by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican yesterday. AP]

Pope Benedict XVI beatified Pope John Paul II before more than a million faithful in St. Peter's Square and surrounding streets yesterday, moving the beloved former pontiff one step closer to possible sainthood.

The crowd erupted in cheers, tears and applause as an enormous photo of a smiling John Paul was unveiled over the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica and a choir launched into a hymn long associated with the Polish-born pope.

The beatification, the fastest in modern times, is a morale boost for a church scarred by the sex abuse crisis, but it has also triggered a new wave of anger from victims because the scandal occurred under John Paul's 27-year watch.

Pope Benedict XVI praised Pope John Paul II for having restored Christianity as a religion of hope, speaking during the beatification Mass of his beloved predecessor.

In his homily, Benedict hailed the Polish-born John Paul II's "strength of a titan" in defending Christianity against the "irreversible" tide of Marxism with his courage and faith and "helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian."

Speaking in Latin, Benedict pronounced John Paul "Blessed" shortly after the start of the Mass, held under sunny skies and amid a sea of Poland's red and white flags – a scene reminiscent of John Paul's 2005 funeral, when some 3 million people paid homage to the pope.

Benedict then received a silver reliquary holding a vial of blood taken from John Paul during his final hospitalization. The relic, a key feature of beatification ceremonies, will be available for the faithful to venerate.

It was presented to him by Sister Tobiana, the Polish nun who tended to John Paul throughout his pontificate, and Sister Marie Simone-Pierre of France, whose inexplicable recovery from Parkinson's disease was decreed to be the miracle necessary for John Paul to be beatified.

Cardinals kissed the casket of late Pope John Paul II in
St. Peter's Basilica following his beatification on Sunday.

Police placed wide swaths of Rome even miles from the Vatican off limits to private cars to ensure security for some of the estimated 16 heads of state, seven prime ministers and five members of European royal houses attending.

Spain's Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia, wearing a black lace mantilla, mingled with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Poland's historic Solidarity leader and former President Lech Walesa and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who sidestepped an EU travel ban to attend.

Helicopters flew overhead, police boats patrolled the nearby Tiber River and some 5,000 uniformed troops patrolled police barricades to ensure priests, official delegations and those with coveted VIP passes could get to their places.

"He went all over the world," said Bishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, who came to Rome for the ceremony. "Today, we're coming to him."

[PHOTO FROM GOOGLE -AP: Polish and foreign believers pray during a night vigil ahead of the beatification of late Pope John Paul II in the Lagiewniki God's Mercy Sanctuary in Krakow, Poland, Saturday, April 30, 2011. The beatification ceremony of Poland's most beloved and revered son, Pope John Paul II will take place in Rome on Sunday. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky)]

Thousands of pilgrims, many of them from John Paul's native Poland, spent the night in sleeping bags on bridges and in piazzas around town, and then packed St. Peter's as soon as the barricades opened over an hour in advance because the crowds were too great.

They stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the main boulevard leading to the Vatican, Via della Conciliazione, as well as on side streets around it and the bridges crossing the Tiber leading to St. Peter's. Rome police headquarters put the number attending at over a million.

"John Paul was a wonderful man and it's a privilege to be here. It's wonderful to see people from all across the world," said Anne Honiball, 48, a nursing home administrator from Worthing, England who carried a small Union Jack flag.

"We missed the royal wedding but we are Catholics and this was a bit more important, I suppose," said Honibal, a former Protestant who converted to Catholicism 10 years ago.

It's the fastest beatification on record, coming just six years after John Paul died and beating out the beatification of Mother Teresa by a few days.

Benedict put John Paul on the fast-track for possible sainthood when he dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the beatification process to begin weeks after his April 2, 2005, death.

Benedict was responding to chants of "Santo Subito!" or "Sainthood Immediately" that erupted during John Paul's funeral.

On Saturday night, a "Santo Subito" banner was emblazoned on the side of the Circus Maximus field, where an all-night prayer vigil kicked off the beatification celebrations in earnest.

Many pilgrims spent the night moving around the center visiting eight churches that stayed open all night, a "white night" of prayer in honor of the late pope.


Mano po, John Paul II By AMBASSADOR JOSE A. ZAIDE May 2, 2011, 8:00am

[PAPAL TOUCH: A little boy reaches out to touch the hand of the late Pope John Paul II in a wall photograph in the town of Krakow, Poland, on Saturday, April 30, 2011. Sunday, the late Pontiff was beatified and given 'blessed' status, a step closer to sainthood.]

MANILA, Philippines -- On John Paul II's second visit to the Philippines, teeming humanity spilled over Luneta Grandstand to Rizal Park and Roxas Boulevard. The space reverberated, "Jay/ P/ 2 ! /We/ Love/ You !" Miraculously, Manila police blotters registered the cleanest slate during JP2's three-day sojourn.

At the end of the diplomatic reception line, Minister Mogens Jensen greeted John Paul II, "I am only the Chargé d'Affaires of Denmark." The Pontiff returned the compliment, "I am only the Vicar of Christ."

Fast-forward to Lubljiana, Slovenia. On the Pontiff's birthday, the Slovenes thoughtfully recorded the cathedral bells of Cracow to "peal" before JP2 goes to bed, and when he awakes in the morning. A throng amassed at the football stadium (modest still in comparison to our unbeatable record at Luneta).

Several envoys genuflected to kiss the Pontiff's ring. How to reconcile being a Roman Catholic and an envoy? After greeting Slovenian President Milan Kucan, I screwed my courage not to bend knee and resisted kissing the august ring. Standing upright, and bending slightly from the waist, I raised the hand of His Holiness to my forehead, "Mano po, Your Holiness. Greetings from President Ramos and a grateful Filipino nation…"

"Mabuhay…" JP2 responded instinctively, warmly,"…was it last year that I was in the Philippines…?"

"No, your Holiness… it was two years ago…January 1995." The Pontiff couldn't forget his Manila reception. As our honorary Consul General Joze Kastelics saw on TV, I held up the flow of the diplomatic line slightly, but, oh, so perceptibly, during that blessed conversation.

[POPE STATUETTES: A vendor of religious items shows different statuettes of Pope John Paul II at a shop along Tayuman Street, Manila on Saturday, April 30, 2011. (Photo by LJ PASION)

The Pope had a soft spot for Filipinos, whom he called today's evangelizers. We fill churches in Europe, teach children catechism at home, and shepherd families back to the faith. Déjà vu of the early Christian slaves proselytizing the pagan Romans?

Denying myself the obeisance of genuflection and kissing the ring, (devoutly wished, were it a private audience), I later learned that President John F. Kennedy first shook hands with the Pope, then genuflected to kiss his ring. Washington's two-step protocol for the first American Catholic President's meeting with a Pontiff.

Croatia is another country with pious reverence for JP2. After the presentation of credentials to President Franjo Tudtman, the envoy lays a wreath to the unknown soldier at the Mount of Martyrs, national colors fluttering and anthems playing. If a Catholic, he is invited to the chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul to touch a stone urn which holds hallowed earth…Croatian ground kissed by the Pope on his first visit.

We motored from Vienna for the Pope's second visit to Zagreb, Croatia — my wife surly the entire five-hour drive because she had to get up at 3:30 in the morning. Coffee and breakfast at the Graz autobahn pit stop didn't improve her humor. And she grouched, "Sa susunod, hindi na ako sasama..!" This time, Croatian Protocol accommodated both the Ambassadors and their spouses at the diplomatic reception line to His Holiness. I again did mano po; and I noticed the progress of Parkinson's. My wife, the complaining Mrs. Victoria Zaide, had the privilege to genuflect and to kiss the ring of JP2. And, mirabile dictu! for the rest of our sojourn in Croatia, bad humor and surliness melted into a beatific smile. (Excerpted from the book Bababa, ba?).

Subito santo. Christendom wanted to fast-forward JP2's beatification and canonization. The Poles, who couldn't wait, venerate a life-size statue of JP2 in Cracow.

Saint before his time. When our Ateneo High School Class 60/College 64 wanted the carillon bells to honor our teachers and others, Fr. Rene Javellana, SJ, invoked canon law that church bells are named only after saints. But we got around this by inscribing on the Angelus bell on 31 July 2005 (long before beatification): "John Paul II pray for Eagles 60/64."


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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