An image of Pope John Paul II is projected during a
multimedia show a night before his canonisation, in Krakow.
REUTERS/Agencja Gazeta/Jacek Smoter
As many as one million people are expected in Saint
Peter's Square and nearby streets of Rome to witness the
canonisation of John XXIII and John Paul II, two of the great
popes of the 20th century.
John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and set up the
modernising Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II, the
Pole who reigned for nearly 27 years and played a leading
role on the world stage, will be declared saints by Pope
Francis' own huge popularity has added extra appeal to the
unprecedented ceremony to raise two former leaders of the
church to sainthood. But while both were widely revered,
there has also been criticism that John Paul II, who only
died nine years ago, has been canonised too quickly.
Groups representing victims of sexual abuse by Catholic
priests also say he did not do enough to root out a scandal
that emerged towards the end of his pontificate and which has
hung over the church ever since.
The controversy has however done nothing to put off the
hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful who have been
arriving in Rome over the past few days.
"Pope John Paul II was the pope who opened the doors to the
youth and was very close to us young people," said
Argentinian nun, Sister Irmana Mariella.
"I grew up with him and it is very emotional for me,
especially to share and to transmit all this, personally, to
all the people in Argentina who want to be here but cannot."
Some 10,000 police and security personnel and special
paramedical teams were to be deployed and large areas of Rome
closed to traffic, in an operation mayor Ignazio Marino
estimated would cost more than 7 million euros.
Thousands of pilgrims from Poland were due to arrive in
specially chartered trains at around midnight on Saturday,
with many expected to spend the night praying in Rome
churches left open especially for the event.
Despite occasional bursts of drenching rain, thousands of
others gathered in groups dancing or singing in the centre of
Rome or settled in for an overnight wait near Saint Peter's
in the hope of securing a spot when the square is opened
early on Sunday morning.
"It rains a lot at home so we don't have any real worries
about waiting to be in the square tomorrow," said Emmanuel
Dalieux, a pilgrim from the southern French city of Lourdes.
"We're not afraid of the rain at all."
The appointment of the Argentinian-born Pope Francis has
injected fresh enthusiasm into a church beset by sexual and
financial scandals during the papacy of his predecessor
Benedict XVI, who resigned last year in a step not seen since
the Middle Ages.
He now lives in secluded retirement but will be present at
the canonisation mass, which is due to begin at 10 a.m. (0800
GMT) and which will bring together four popes at one time.
The fact that the two being canonised are widely seen as
representing contrasting faces of the church has added to the
political significance of an event that Francis hopes will
draw the world's 1.2 billion Catholics closer together.
John, an Italian often known as the "Good Pope" because of
his friendly, open personality, died before the Second
Vatican Council ended its work in 1965 but his initiative set
off one of the greatest upheavals in church teaching in
The Council ended the use of Latin at mass, brought in the
use of modern music and opened the way for challenges to
Vatican authority which alienated some traditionalists.
John Paul was widely credited with helping to bring down
communist rule in eastern Europe and hastening the end of the
Cold War. He continued many of the reforms but tightened
central control, condemned theological renegades and preached
a stricter line on social issues such as sexual freedom.
A charismatic, dominant pope, he was criticised by some as a
rigid conservative but the adoration he inspired was shown by
the huge crowds whose chants of "santo subito!" (make him a
saint at once!) at his funeral 2005 were answered with the
fastest declaration of sainthood in modern history.
Both canonisations have involved some intervention with the
normally strict rules governing declaration of a saint, which
involve a close examination of each candidate's life and
works and normally the attestation of at least two miracles.
Benedict waived a rule that normally requires a five-year
waiting period before the preliminaries to sainthood can even
begin to speed up John Paul's canonisation while Francis
ruled that only one miracle was needed to declare John a