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John Paul II is blessed!

Faithful cheer as they crowd St. Peter's square at the beatification of Pope John Paul II (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Pope Benedict XVI has today declared the late Pope John Paul II blessed, bringing him one step closer to sainthood.

Benedict XVI beatified his predecessor in front of over a million pilgrims who had gathered in St Peter’s Square and other piazzas surrounding the Vatican.

Benedict XVI said the Polish pope had opened society, culture, political and economic systems to Christ, “turning back with the strength of a titan—a strength which came to him from God—a tide which appeared irreversible”.

He said: “By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man.”

At the beginning of the Mass on St Peter’s Square, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the vicar general of the diocese of Rome and the postulator of Blessed John Paul II’s cause, asked the Pope to declare the late pope a “Beatus” or Blessed. The Holy Father replied by reading the decree of beatification and naming Blessed John Paul II’s feast day on October 22.

Pilgrims who stood in the streaming sunlight after nights outdoors and endless queues cheered and clapped when the Pope pronounced the decree.

The normal five-year waiting period after a holy person’s death was waived after four million people came to Rome during the week in which Pope John Paul II was buried in 2005, allowing the late pontiff to be fast-tracked to beatification. The testimony of a French nun, Sister Marie Simon Pierre, who was inexplicatbly cured of her Parkinson’s disease after praying for Blessed John Paul’s intercession, advanced the cause of his beatification. Another miracle which cannot be explained by science must be attributed to him if he is to be canonised.

Drawing on the Gospel of the day—Divine Mercy Sunday, instituted by Blessed John Paul II—Benedict spoke about the beatitude of faith which Christ gave Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”. He said the beatification made this Gospel particularly striking “because we are gathered to celebrate a beatification, but even more so because today the one proclaimed blessed is a Pope, a Successor of Peter, one who was called to confirm his brethren in the faith. John Paul II is blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith.”

The Pope added that Blessed John Paul II “directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an ‘Advent’ spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace.”

Pope Benedict seemed also to address the suggestion that his predecessor had turned his back on the innovations of the Second Vatican Council, a criticism which has been levelled against the late pope. He spoke of Blessed John Paul’s role in spreading the message “that man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man”, which he said it was one of the great legacies of the council. A number of Blessed John Paul II’s critics believe he did not do enough to stop the abuse of children by priests.

This is only the second time since Pope Benedict has presided over a beatification since he returned to an older format which meant that new blesseds were declared in their dioceses by local bishops instead of in Rome, where Blessed John Paul II personally beatified several hundred people. Pope Benedict beatified Blessed John Henry Newman in Birmingham last year.