Church celebrates its new papal saints

Pope Francis presided over the canonisation of two of his predecessors yesterday, witnessed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Popes John Paul II and John XXIII were declared saints at an historic ceremony at the Vatican.

Pope Francis – the first-ever Jesuit pontiff - recited the formula that made the two Popes saints in Latin. After saying that the Church had deliberated, consulted and prayed for divine assistance, he continued: "We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be saints and we enrol them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church." Parishes throughout the world immediately added the names to their Litany of Saints.

In his homily from the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis described both popes as "men of courage, who lived through times of tragedy but were not cowed by them". He said that John Paul II was the pope of the family and John XXIII was a servant as well as a leader, remembered as the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit.

Pope Emeritus Benedict had been greeted by Pope Francis before the start of the two-hour service. He took his seat alongside the cardinals in St Peter's Square during the rite at the start of Sunday's Mass.

The squares and streets of the Vatican were packed with hundreds of thousands of people for the ceremony, many of them from Poland who had come to see their most famous compatriot, John Paul II, become a saint. It was one of the biggest crowds since John Paul II's beatification in 2011.

John XXIII, who was pope from 1958 to 1963, was responsible for calling the Second Vatican Council; while John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years until his death in 2005, played a leading role on the world stage, especially with regard to the fall of Communism.