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John Paul II beatified, last step before canonization

John Paul II has been beatified and declared 'blessed' by current Pope Benedict XVI, bringing the late pontiff one step closer to sainthood. More than one million people gathered in St. Peter's Square for the Mass.

Pope John Paul II waves to the faithful from the window of his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in 1995

The late Pope John Paul II was beloved by many Catholics

The late Pope John Paul II was beatified on Sunday, when current Pope Benedict XVI bestowed the status of "blessed" on him in a mass in St. Peter's Square. Throngs of pilgrims - more than one million, according police estimates - cheered and waved flags as Benedict pronounced the formula for beatification.

They chanted "santo subito" or "sainthood now" just as the crowds had at John Paul's funeral in 2005 after he died of Parkinson's disease. A giant banner on a smiling John Paul was unveiled over the facade of the St. Peter's basilica to cheers, tears and applause.

A crowd in front of St. Peter's Basilica

A huge crowd gathered at St. Peter's Basilica for the beatification

The last stage of the sainthood process before canonization is beatification. John Paul became eligible for beatification when the unexplained healing of a French nun from Parkinson's disease was attributed as a miracle, brought about by his intercession. John Paul died of Parkinson's disease himself in 2005.

One more 'miracle'

The Polish John Paul was elected pope in 1978, the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years. The Vatican must certify one more 'miracle' before he can be made a saint.

It has been a fast-track beatification for the late pope, which many say will help burnish the image of the scandal-plagued Catholic Church. Much of the child abuse by members of the clergy that has come to light in the recent scandals took place under John Paul's watch and victims and critics have accused him of turning a blind eye to the abuse.

After the Mass, the pilgrims were able to file past John Paul's coffin, which was exhumed on Friday and placed inside St.Peter's Basilica.

Author: Holly Fox (AFP, AP)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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