Pope Benedict XVI has beatified Pope John Paul II. In a ceremony before hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in Rome he explained his great admiration and affection for his predecessor.
“John Paul II is blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith.”
It’s estimated that two million pilgrims have descended on Rome for the occasion. The Pope told them that Blessed John Paul II, as he can now be called, had reinvigorated the Catholic Church following his election as pontiff in October 1978.
“By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel.”
“In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is ‘Redemptor hominis,’ the Redeemer of man.”
The presidents of Italy, Poland and Mexico were among some 90 heads of state and other dignitaries attending the beatification. Pope Benedict recalled for them the key role Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate played in the peaceful dismantling of communism.
“When Karol Wojtyla ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man.”
It was Blessed John Paul’s first papal visit to communist-controlled Poland in 1979 that many historians pinpoint as the beginning of the end for communism. Today in St. Peter's Square, the Polish flag was being waived everywhere by thrilled Poles.
“He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an ‘Advent’ spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace.”
On very personal note, Pope Benedict also recalled his 23 years in charge of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when worked closely alongside Blessed John Paul.
“I was at his side and came to revere him all the more. My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me.”
The coffin of Blessed John Paul II will now be on display in St. Peter’s Basilica until tomorrow to allow pilgrims to venerate him.