VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that everyone who knew or admired John Paul II shares his joy that he will beatify his predecessor on May 1 — a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square that could bring 2 million people into Rome.
Beatification is the last major step before possible sainthood.
The ceremony, a week after Easter, is expected to draw huge crowds, according to Rome authorities rushing to ready the capital for the event. John Paul’s funeral in 2005 saw nearly 3 million faithful flock to the Vatican.
“On May 1, I’ll have the joy of proclaiming blessed the venerable John Paul II, my beloved predecessor,” Benedict said from his studio window overlooking the square, where tourists and pilgrims gathered to receive his traditional Sunday blessing.
“All those who knew him, all those who esteemed and admired him, cannot help but rejoice with the church for this event,” the pontiff said.
Many pilgrims will come from John Paul’s homeland of Poland. Benedict told the Poles in the square that he shares their joy over the announcement Friday of the beatification.
“This news was much awaited by everyone” and in a particular way by Poles, because John Paul had been “their guide in faith, in truth and in freedom,” Benedict said.
The 1978-2005 papacy of the first Polish-born pope is credited with helping to bring the end in the late 1980s to decades of communist rule in Eastern Europe, particularly through his staunch championing of the Solidarity labor movement in Poland.
But John Paul’s long tenure at the helm of the Roman Catholic Church also spanned years when shocking revelations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy disgusted many faithful. As the scandal exploded, church hierarchy in many dioceses around the world were accused by the abused of systematically covering up rape and molestation by priests.
John Paul’s homeland often embraced the church as a bulwark against communism, and priests often were admired as heroes and patriots, and he has been faulted for his overriding concern with safeguarding the rights of accused clergy.
We Are Church, an international Catholic group that seeks renewal in the church, described John Paul as a “controversial, contradictory pope.”
In a statement Sunday reacting to the decision to beatify him, the group contended that John Paul’s “penchant for spiritual authoritarianism” contributed to “the greatest tragedy of his tenure as pope: the sexual abuse of thousands of children globally.”
“His tragedy lies in the discrepancy between his commitment to reform and dialogue in the world and his return to authoritarianism within the church,” We Are Church said.