But one of his most impressive accomplishments, at least statistically, was his recognition of hundreds of new saints. John Paul beatified and canonized more men and women than all previous Popes combined--over 1,800 in all.
But he didn’t do so arbitrarily. The Pope recognized that in this particular age, the world yearns for examples of holiness, and he was eager to provide them.
Yet on Sunday, May 1, this man who constantly pointed to examples of modern sanctity found the spotlight directed back toward him. John Paul’s beatification Mass—which officially made him Blessed Pope John Paul II—proved to be one of the highest-attended events in Vatican history. Roughly 1.5-million pilgrims squeezed in and around St. Peter’s square, many having spent the previous night on the surrounding streets.
|Some of the more than 1.5-million pilgrims celebrating the beatification|
The pilgrims were joined by hundreds of cardinals and bishops, thousands of priests, and a number of presidents and dignitaries. The Polish presence was particularly thick and included the Polish President himself. Amazingly, one report had one out of every eight Poles traveling to Rome for the beatification.
|Cardinals and bishops processing to the altar|
After a long procession of bishops, cardinals, and eventually Pope Benedict XVI, the beatification rite took place at the beginning of Mass. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the papal vicar for Rome, began the rite by approaching the chair of Pope Benedict, and reading a short biography of John Paul’s life.
The biography was read in Latin, which made it difficult to comprehend for the majority of the crowd. But any time they heard “Poland” or “John Paul II,” they roared their approval.
|Cardinal Vallini proposing John Paul's beatification to Pope Benedict|
When Cardinal Vallini was through reading the biography, he stated his petition for John Paul’s beatification. Pope Benedict XVI accepted the request, thereby officially proclaiming him as Blessed John Paul II.
Jubilant applause crescendoed throughout the crowd, and an enormous portrait of John Paul was unveiled in front of the basilica. It featured the smiling face so familiar to Catholics across the world and glowed like the Pope's own personality.
|The portrait of John Paul that was revealed during the beatification|
It’s hard to describe the ecstatic joy throughout the celebration. When 20,000 people scream at a basketball game, it’s energizing. When 80,000 people roar at a soccer match, it’s even more invigorating. But when more than a million voices thunder through an entire city—a country, to be more accurate!—the atmosphere is absolutely electric.
Blessed Pope John Paul II has now officially joined the ranks of the beatus. Though he pointed to many other examples of holiness, he now stands as a modern hero himself, one who will surely be loved for centuries to come.