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Onscene as Pope Francis makes saints of John Paul II and John XXIII

Onscene as Pope Francis makes saints of John Paul II and John XXIII

VATICAN CITY -- Around 800,000 people braved stormy skies and dense crowds today in St. Peter’s Square and at piazzas throughout Rome where giant screens were erected to watch Pope Francis create two new saints for the Catholic Church. Many millions more around the world tuned in to watch the grand event, which was broadcast in 3-D for the first time in Vatican history. 

The ceremony, mostly in Latin, lasted nearly two hours, but the saint making was done within the first 15 minutes when Pope Francis announced the elevation of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II to raucous applause in the packed square.

Retired Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, dressed in ceremonial white vestments, had a front row seat among the 150 cardinals in attendance.  This is the second Francis and Benedict have appeared together in St. Peter’s Square, but the first time in a liturgical mass.   The crowd cheered when Pope Francis greeted his predecessor at the beginning and the end of the service and Benedict officially "concelebrated" the mass, as did 7,000 other prelates in attendance. But apart from Benedict's prime seat and frequent close-ups by Catholic TV’s exclusive coverage, he didn’t participate in the ceremony.

The two new saints were represented on the altar by ornate reliquaries containing a slice of skin from Pope John XXIII, cut from a secret part of his body when he was exhumed in 2000, and a vial of blood from Pope John Paul II, taken from him when he died in 2005.

More than 90 high level delegations, including the Catholic queens of Belgium and Spain dressed in white, and Zimbabwe's controversial President Robert Mugabe, sat under tents erected in the square in case of rain.  Pope Francis was uncharacteristically ceremonial, sticking largely to his scripted homily and dressed in the usual papal garb.  Several hundred priests and deacons snaked through the packed square to give communion to those in attendance and choirs sang, bells rang and with the exception of a few drops before the ceremony began, the weather held.

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