Last Sunday, I had the great privilege of attending the beatification Mass of Pope John Paul II, in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
From my previous posts, you may know that Fr. Roderick and I were in Rome a few days prior to this and saw the influx of pilgrims and the preparations on-going throughout the city.
On Sunday morning, after many people spent the night outside the Vatican and in the Via della Conciliazione, St. Peter’s Square was finally reopened and pilgrims were allowed in for the Beatification Mass.
I was very impressed with the way the security forces managed the crowd, and despite the long night and tiredness of the crowd, I did not witness any problems. Groups of a few thousand people at a time were let in and allowed to go through the security scanners in order to enter the square. It took more than 3 hours, but by 10 am the Square and the Via were completely filled, all the way from St. Peter’s to the Tiber River.
Fr. Roderick and I avoided the crowds and left the Friezen Church just as the square was getting filled. Somehow, we ended up in a “no man’s land” between the end of St. Peter’s Square and the beginning of the Via della Conciliazione. I think we were actually in a security lane, but so were a lot of other people who didn’t look like they necessarily belonged there.
Nonetheless, our vantage point was near the big video screen I’ve mentioned before, and at the very edge of St. Peter’s Square, technically standing in the middle of the street. We tried to keep a low profile so that security wouldn’t kick us out.
Mass began with the entrance of Pope Benedict in the pope-mobile. We were a long distance from his entrance route, but we did actually see him. The photos below were taken from the video screen, but you can get the gist. The crowd was quite excited to see him and you could tell that he was enjoying himself.
The Beatification itself was a fairly simple affair, occurring after the Entrance and Penitential Rites and before the Liturgy of the Word. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, presented a humble petition to Pope Benedict, asking that Servant of God, Pope John Paul II be inscribed among the list of those Beatified. (This according to my attempts to translate the Italian).
Pope Benedict replied, according to the current formula, as follows (also according to my limited ability to translate Italian):
“Acceding to the request of our Brother Agostino Cardinal Vallini, our Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome, of many other of our Brothers in the episcopate, and many of the faithful, after consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, by our apostolic authority we declare that the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II, pope, shall henceforth be invoked as Blessed and that his feast shall be celebrated every year on the 22nd of October, in the places and according to the norms established by Church law.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
After this, the Mass pretty much proceeded as any other Mass would. I would point your attention to a terrific homily given by Pope Benedict about Bl. Pope John Paul II. If you haven’t read it, you can find the text here. The Holy Father’s personal note at the end of the homily is particularly moving.
Estimates I’ve seen put the attendance at between 1 and 1.5 million people. Clearly this was the biggest gathering I’ve ever been a part of. It was a highlight of my life to be both a witness and participant in this occasion, one I will never forget.
Here is a montage of photos from my vantage point at the end of St. Peter’s Square. You don’t really get a sense of the size of the crowd, you can find those photos elsewhere.
I have no doubts about the saintliness of Bl. Pope John Paul. As the proclamation of his beatitude was made and his portrait on the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica was unveiled, you could feel the electricity and joy in the air and hear the gathering chant of “Juan Pablo” as it rolled up through the crowd beginning at the Tiber River and ending at St. Peter’s Basilica. It would be hard to experience that and leave with doubts.