VATICAN CITY — “John Paul II is blessed because of his faith — a strong, generous and apostolic faith,” Pope Benedict XVI said just minutes after formally beatifying his predecessor.
Italian police estimated there were more than 1 million people in St. Peter’s Square, around the Vatican and watching the Mass on large screens at the Circus Maximus.
Pope Benedict read the formula of beatification at the beginning of the liturgy after Cardinal Agostino Vallini, papal vicar for Rome, petitioned the pope “to inscribe the venerable servant of God John Paul II, pope, among the number of blesseds.”
The pope responded by declaring, “the venerable servant of God, John Paul II, pope, henceforth will be called blessed” and his feast will be Oct. 22, the anniversary of the inauguration of his pontificate in 1978.
The crowds burst into sustained applause, many people cried and brass players intoned a fanfare as soon as the pope finished reading the proclamation.
In his homily, Pope Benedict spoke of Pope John Paul’s suffering and his battle with Parkinson’s disease, which eventually crippled him.
“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 the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined,” the pope said.
Pope Benedict also reminded the crowd of how devoted Pope John Paul was to Mary and to following her example of complete faith.
“Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed,” the pope prayed at the end of his homily. “Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people.”