Perhaps the grandest beatification ceremony ever celebrated – the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II – will be divided into stages to maintain a solemn spirit across three days of prayerful preparation, celebration and thanksgiving.
Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Pope's vicar for the Diocese of Rome, called the long beatification weekend a "spiritual journey" at an April 5 press conference held to present the details of the much awaited event.
The actual ceremony is set for the morning of May 1, sandwiched between an evening prayer vigil and a thanksgiving Mass the following day.
As pilgrims arrive to the Eternal City by bus, ferry, and even "charter trains" on April 30, they are invited to join together at the Circus Maximus – a great field in the center of Rome once used for chariot races – for a prayer vigil. The vigil will be both "universal and very Roman," said Cardinal Vallini as he described the major elements of the gathering.
It is to be divided in two parts. The first is a celebration of the memory of the late pontiff. A choir and orchestra will provide the music as the image of Our Lady of Rome, Maria Salus Populi Romani, is processed into the venue.
Three people who were deeply affected by Pope John Paul II will be present to give their testimonies. His spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, his personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the religious sister miraculously healed of Parkinson's disease through his intercession, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, will all speak of the Pope's effect on their lives.
A second moment will be the prayer of the luminous mysteries of the Rosary. The Circus Maximus will be connected by video to five Marian shrines around the world and each of the five decades of the Rosary will be dedicated to an intention held dear by Pope John Paul II.
Those taking part in the live video feed include: the sanctuary of Divine Mercy at the Lagniewniki Shrine in Krakow, Poland; the Kawekamo Shrine in Bugando, Tanzania; Our Lady of Lebanon Shrine in Harissa, Lebanon; the Basilica of Holy Mary of Guadalupe in Mexico City; and the Fatima Shrine in Portugal. The prayer intentions will be for the youth, the family, evangelization, hope and peace for nations and the Church.
Pope Benedict himself will join by video for a final prayer and to impart the apostolic blessing on the faithful.
Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Vatican spokesman, said that parishes and Catholic communities everywhere are invited to take part in simultaneous prayer initiatives.
Though the prayer vigil is scheduled to finish at 10:30 p.m., the prayerful preparation and "spiritual journey" will continue through the night. A total of eight parishes will be open through the night to provide places for worship and confession as the faithful make the pilgrimage across the historic city center to St. Peter's Square for the morning beatification ceremony.
Many of the faithful are expected to spend the night under the stars as they await the start of the beatification celebration. The Opera Romana Pelligrinaggi—the agency charged with coordinating the events—will have drinks and snacks available at refreshment stands to keep pilgrims sustained as they wait for the square to open in the early hours of the morning.
A Twitter account has also been set up through the Vatican's Pope2You website, whereby pilgrims can "tweet" about the experience as it unfolds and those interested around the world can follow along.
At 9:00 a.m., the throng of pilgrims will join together in an hour of prayer, beginning with the Divine Mercy Chaplet and finishing with an invocation of mercy over the whole world.
The beatification ceremony and Mass will then be presided over by the Pope, with cardinals concelebrating. When the Pope pronounces John Paul II a "blessed" and thus one step closer to official sainthood, an enormous image of the Pope will be unveiled in the square.
For the enormous turnout - estimated at around 400,000 - there will be 14 "maxi-screens" set up in the square and down the street leading out of it so the faithful can follow along.
There will be 500 priests distributing communion to the faithful in St. Peter's Square and the outer Pius XII Square. Another 300 will be available to offer the Eucharist to those pilgrims who are expected to fill the street leading up to St. Peter's.
Churches around Rome will also offer communion during the beatification Mass for those who seek it.
A half hour after the Mass and following a visit from Pope Benedict and the cardinals to render him homage, John Paul II's coffin will be available for veneration within St. Peter's Basilica. The coffin, however, will not be opened.
It will remain in its place until the last person who wishes to see it has done so. Fr. Lombardi said that this could even mean that visits extend into May 2.
On May 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone will preside over the final moment of the beatification celebrations. He will preside over an open-air thanksgiving Mass in St. Peter's Square to wrap up the three-day spiritual journey.
One of the priests joining Cardinal Vallini and Fr. Lombardi at the April 5 press conference, Fr. Cesar Atuire of Opera Romana Pelligrinaggi, used the famous Italian words of John Paul II to invite all comers. For pilgrims who might come if not for perceived difficulties with accommodations or other services, he said, "Non abbiate paura!" (Do not fear!)
Costs are being kept down by an "ethics card" signed as a contract between organizers and local businesses to keep them honest.
"There is space for everyone and the organization we are putting in place will be able to serve all comers," concluded Fr. Atuire.
Pilgrims, he said, can aid in the preparation process by registering online at www.beatusjpii.org.