Vatican declares Popes John Paul II and John XXIII saints!

Tapestry portraits of John Paul II (L) and Pope John XXIII and are seen in St Peter's Square at the Vatican April 27

Pope Francis has declared two of his predecessors, John Paul II and John XXIII, saints of the Roman Catholic church in an unprecedented double-canonisation mass in St Peter’s Square.

The two towering figures of the 20th-century church were canonised to great applause from hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered in theVatican piazza.Pope Francis  eads the canonisation mass of Popes John XXIII  and John Paul II

Carrying flags, backpacks and rolled foam mattresses, pilgrims from all over the world had flocked into Vatican City overnight and were let into St Peter’s Square from 5.30am when the piazza was opened by authorities.

Canonization of popes John Paul II and John XXIIIPilgrims gather on Saint Peter’s Square ahead of a ceremony that will see popes John Paul II and John XXIII recognized as saints. Photograph: Claudio Peri/EPAMost of those let in first had spent all night outside and had either slept on the street or not slept at all. But a carnival atmosphere reigned as the crowds of Catholics prepared to witness the canonisation of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII.

“Today is a great celebration,” said Giuseppe Cannella from Milan, standing on the broad avenue leading to St Peter’s basilica. Ahead of him were Michela Zugno, 23, and Dario Zappa, 24, also from Milan, who had been waiting on Via della Conciliazione since midnight.

“They were both two greats of the church who revolutionised it completely, and it’s important to show that, despite all the difficulties, we young people are here,” said Zugno.

Pope FrancisPope Francis celebrates mass during the canonisation ceremony in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Photograph: Max Rossi/ReutersPope Francis was, unusually, joined by emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, his predecessor who resigned last year. The former German pontiff’s presence had been uncertain due to ill health.

Faithful fill St Peter's Square during a solemn ceremony led by Pope Francis, at the Vatican, April 27

The other unprecedented aspect of the event was the canonisation of both John Paul II and John XXIII at the same time. Beatified in 2011, the Polish pope had been on a record-quick path to sainthood since his death in 2005, when pilgrims at his funeral shouted ‘Santo Subito!’ (‘Saint Immediately!’).

John XXIII, however, the Italian pontiff from 1958 to 1963 who called the revolutionary Second Vatican Council, had not been expected to be recognised as a saint imminently as he lacked the second miracle usually required.

Pilgirms attend the canonisation mass of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II Never one to be bound by convention, however, Francis announced the dual-canonisation last year, not long after his election as the Catholic church’s first Latin American pope.

Canonising a hero of liberal Catholics alongside the darling of many conservatives was seen by Vatican observers as an attempt to bring together different wings of the church.

Among the crowds in St Peter’s Square on Sunday morning was a large Polish contingent, which had travelled into Rome on 1,700 coaches as well as charter flights and trains. One of them, Lessek Gretka, 51, was present for Karol Wojtyla’s visit to Poland in 1979 – the first time that a pope visited a communist country.

Canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII in romePeople prepare to spend the night in Piazza Navona in Rome ahead of the double canonisation. Photograph: Massimo Percossi/EPA“He changed the political situation not just in Poland but in the whole world. We are that generation for whom that means a lot,” he said.

Asked about criticism from the victims of clerical sex abuse who argue Wojtyla did not act quickly enough to curb the actions of paedophile priests, Gretka said he did not think this should be a stumbling block to sainthood.

Lebanese of all faiths hope Pope visit heralds peace.

Lebanese from various religious backgrounds are eagerly awaiting Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to their country and hope that the trip could help bring peace to the nation.

“The pope can try to ease any religion’s collective tension,” said Sawsan Darwaza, a theater and film director who said she was very supportive of the visit even though she is not Christian.

“It’s very thoughtful and important that he chose Lebanon,” Darwaza added while walking in Gemmayzeh.

“The pope can say something to cause the people of the Middle East to be tolerant.”

Vatican officials have said the pope decided to proceed with his visit to Lebanon, the first by a pontiff in 15 years, despite the conflict raging in Syria. They say his main message will be one of religious coexistence between Christians and Muslims.

The pontiff will be in the country for three days and will visit a number of Christian sites and villages. He will also hold meetings with prominent Muslim, Christian and political leaders.

The last papal visit to Lebanon was in 1997, when Pope John Paul II came to the country.

A number of people said the pope, as a global figurehead, would bring hope for peace and reconciliation between disparate groups in the country.

In addition to Christian political groups, who have heralded the pope’s visit as a seminal moment for their community, Hezbollah has come out strongly supportive of the visit as an opportunity to renew dialogue and strengthen Lebanon’s pluralism.

Other religious leaders, including Salafists, have either endorsed the trip or expressed tolerance of it.

“All the region’s people respect the pope – it’s not about religion,” said 20-year-old Alaa Barakat. “He is not only a religious man.”

Others spoke about the significance of the leader of the Catholic Church taking the time to visit Lebanon, a relatively small country.

“Despite everything happening in Lebanon at the moment, the pope’s visit is like a puff of oxygen. We hope this visit makes people remember that this is a civilized country that important figures can visit,” said Tanya, who was walking down the street in Hamra. “It’s not about what the pope does; it’s about how the Lebanese people respond. Hopefully, he’ll be safe here.”

Many said they were apprehensive that the pope’s visit was taking place during a tumultuous political time and amid heightened religious tensions fueled by the conflict in Syria.

The killings in Libya and protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the region over an anti-Islam movie were a cause of concern for some, who worried a visit by pope to the Middle East could exacerbate religious tensions.

Security will be bolstered around the country during his visit, particularly along the pope’s traveling route.

Meanwhile, others saw the pontiff’s visit as an opportunity for unity.

Christians from around the region are expected to visit Lebanon to see the pope during his visit.

“I’m Jordanian, and I have many Christian friends there. Most of them are coming to Lebanon to see the pope,” said Rima. “It will make people want to come to Lebanon. I’d like to be present as well. I don’t know about others, but I wouldn’t miss it. He should be safe here.”

Balsan Hakkani, a store manager in Downtown Beirut, agreed. “I think it’s [the visit] very good and it’s coming in a very critical situation.”