Pope Francis on Sunday canonized two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, praising the two newest saints for “renewing and updating” the Catholic Church.
The pontiff declared John XXIII and John Paul II saints before some 500,000 pigrims who gathered in St. Peter’s Square and packed the surrounding area.
Nearly 800,000 people, according to Vatican estimates, traveled to Rome for the canonizations.
Francis read the formal sainthood proclamation in Latin during the canonization rite, calling for the two popes to be added to the book of saints and prompting the crowd to respond with applause.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was embraced by Francis before the start of the Mass, was present for the canonization of Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla.
“John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries,” Pope Francis said in his homily.
The pontiff made the New Testament story of St. Thomas and the wounds of Jesus the theme of his homily, telling the faithful that the Catholic Church’s two newest saints were not afraid to welcome the crucified Christ into their lives.
“Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother, because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles,” Pope Francis said.
The pontiff said his two predecessors “were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful.”
John XXIII and John Paul II understood the mercy and forgiveness of God, the pontiff said.
“These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy,” Pope Francis said.
The pontiff discussed the contributions that John XXIII and John Paul II made to the church during the turbulent 20th century.
“In convening the (Second Vatican) Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the church a pastor, a servant-leader, led by the Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit,” Francis said.
The pontiff praised John Paul II for his work on behalf of the family.
“In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains,” Francis said.
The relic of John Paul II was presented to Pope Francis by Floribeth Mora Diaz, the Costa Rican woman whose cure in 2011 was documented as the second miracle that led to the canonization of the Polish pope.
John XXIII’s relic was presented to the pontiff by members of the family of the “good pope.”
Pope Francis greeted the 93 delegations, which included 24 heads of state and government, from Spain, Belgium, Paraguay, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador, Albania, Croatia and Poland, among other countries, attending the canonization ceremony.
King Juan Carlos led Spain’s delegation to the Vatican for the ceremony.
Pope Francis spent nearly 40 minutes greeting the leaders of each of the delegations that traveled to Rome for the historic dual canonization of the former popes.
The pontiff then removed his liturgical vestments and climbed into the popemobile, riding through St. Peter’s Square and waving to the faithful.