The first Mass to refer to the late Pope John Paul II as “the blessed” was celebrated on May 2 at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, ending a three-day celebration that focused on his life and legacy.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, celebrated the relatively low-key Mass a day after John Paul was beatified in a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before a massive crowd. The weekend celebration also included a candlelight vigil on April 30 and the placement of John Paul’s casket in repose in the St. Sebastian chapel in St. Peter’s.
Meanwhile, debate is already turning to the issue of John Paul’s legacy. Italian newspapers published on May 2 started to consider the topic, arguing either the merits of the beatification or weighing in on how John Paul may be remembered.
While he is revered by millions as a man of deep faith and holiness, others point to his theological conservatism and refusal to consider such questions as female ordination.
Beatification is the last step before sainthood. John Paul’s advocates will have to show a second miracle before he can be canonized (for his beatification, he is credited with curing a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, of Parkinson's disease ― the same disease that ultimately contributed to his own death).
The speed with which John Paul was beatified was extraordinarily fast by church standards, coming just six years and 29 days after his death, faster than any other modern figure.
Speaking on April 30, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington (DC), noted that John Paul was a global figure. “Thanks to his travels and to modern technology, John Paul was seen by more people than any other figure,” he said in an interview with ENInews.
“The reasons we have beatifications and canonizations is to show it is possible to live a heroic life of virtue and goodness that inspires others, and I think that is what most people saw in John Paul, a man of God who inspired countless people,” said Wuerl, one of only three non-cardinals to be present at the 1978 conclave that elected John Paul (Wuerl was personal secretary to Cardinal John Wright, who could not move without assistance).
More than one million people arrived in the Italian capital over the weekend, according to officials. At the two-hour Mass on May 1, the sun broke through gray skies. An enthusiastic but solemn crowd spilled beyond St. Peter’s Square onto nearby streets and plazas and filled the majestic Via della Conciliazione all the way to the Tiber River, a distance of nearly half a mile.
The Vatican said it was among the largest crowds to ever gather at St. Peter’s.
Red and white ― the colors of the flag of John Paul’s native Poland ― dominated the gathering, which included signs that read "Santo Subito!" (Italian for "sainthood now!"), an echo of similar signs held up at the former pontiff's funeral.
“He is revered all over the world [and so] all this seems like a natural development,” Agnieszka Rybinski, a 59-year-old homemaker, who drove for nearly two days from Gdansk, Poland to attend the event, told ENInews. She fainted as Pope Benedict XVI said a few words in Polish near the end of the Mass and had to be helped to her feet by family members. “We all miss him very much, and it is wonderful to see so many people who also miss and love him.”