He is now Blessed Pope John Paul II.
Shortly after 10:30am Rome time on May 1, to the resounding cheers of hundreds of thousands of faithful and under sunny skies, Pope Benedict XVI read the formula of beatification, officially proclaiming John Paul “Blessed” with the words:
“We, acceding to the wish of our brother Agostino Cardinal Vallini, our vicar general for the Diocese of Rome, of many other brothers in the episcopate, and of many faithful, after having consulted with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, by our apostolic authority, declare that the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II, Pope, shall henceforth be invoked as ‘Blessed’ and that his feast shall be celebrated in the places and according to the norms established by Church law every year on Oct. 22. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The cheering and applause continued as his official portrait was unveiled on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.
In his homily, Pope Benedict said that John Paul II “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,” the Pope continued, “he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man.”
Benedict XVI recalled how the late Pope lived what he preached. “What the newly elected Pope asked of everyone, he was himself the first to do,” he said. “Society, culture, political and economic systems he opened up to Christ, turning back with the strength of a titan — a strength which came to him from God — a tide which appeared irreversible.”
The Holy Father also explained why he had tried to ensure that the beatification process proceeded relatively quickly. “Our grief at his loss was deep, but even greater was our sense of an immense grace which embraced Rome and the whole world: a grace which was, in some way, the fruit of my beloved predecessor’s entire life, and especially of his witness in suffering,” the Pope said. “Even then, we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God’s people showed their veneration for him. For this reason, with all due respect for the Church’s canonical norms, I wanted his cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste.”
Benedict XVI noted that it was the Second Sunday of Easter, which Blessed John Paul II proclaimed Divine Mercy Sunday. “The date was chosen for today’s celebration because, in God’s providence, my predecessor died on the vigil of this feast,” the Pope said, adding that the day was also the first day of May, Mary’s month, and the liturgical memorial of St. Joseph the Worker.
“All these elements serve to enrich our prayer; they help us in our pilgrimage through time and space; but in heaven a very different celebration is taking place among the angels and saints,” he said.
“Even so,” the Pope added, “God is but one, and one too is Christ the Lord, who, like a bridge, joins earth to heaven. At this moment, we feel closer than ever, sharing, as it were, in the liturgy of heaven.”
Recalling his life, the Pope stressed how Blessed Pope John Paul II was able to bring with him “a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity.” 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,” he said.
The Pope closed by thanking God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II — 23 years in total.
“His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: He remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry,” he said.
“Then, too, there was his witness in suffering: The Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a ‘rock,’ as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined,” he said. “In this way, he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Eucharist.”
A crowd of 1.5 million people was estimated to have taken part in the beatification, including many cardinals and bishops from around the world.
Cardinal Julian Herranz, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, said, “John Paul II’s main contribution was that he prayed always and exemplified a union between faith and life, and in the life of the world, he offered freedom and the truth.”
Cardinal Antonios Naguib, patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, said, “He united the Church in holiness. He was one of the greatest popes of all time and especially of the last century. I had the grace to live all of my episcopate and then my patriarchal ministry during the period we are witnessing today and we thank God for the great grace he gave us today.”
Added Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia, “It was magnificent. [The beatification] says they loved him because he lived what he preached, and he personified the Gospel. He personified the Gospel so well with so much humanity, so much love and outreach. That was John Paul II.
“His relationship with the United States was great. His third international visit as Pope was to Ireland and the United States, including Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, New York. He had a very relevant message from day one for the United States, and he traveled there as Pope seven times.
“I hope [he will be canonized soon].”
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.