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Pope declares John Paul II, John XXIII saints

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Pope Francis leads the canonisation mass of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II at St Peter's Square at the Vatican, on April 27, 2014/AFP

Pope Francis leads the canonisation mass of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II at St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, on April 27, 2014/AFP

VATICAN CITY, Apr 27 – Pope Francis on Sunday proclaimed as saints his influential predecessors John Paul II and John XXIII at an historic ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.

“We declare and define as saints the blessed John XXIII and John Paul II,” the Catholic leader said in a Latin prayer, as pilgrims and foreign dignitaries applauded and chanted: “Amen!”

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, 87, who is the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages, made a rare public appearance in his white papal cassock and Francis embraced him before the ceremony.

Commentators defined the event as a “four-pope day”.

Many faithful waved the red-and-white flags from John Paul II’s native Poland and one pilgrim held up a banner reading: “Two pope saints in heaven, two in St Peter’s Square”.

“We are followers of all four popes who have all been close to the people. This is an historic day but one that you really feel inside,” said Luisa Tomolo, a member of an Italian religious movement.

Thousands also followed the ceremony on giant screens set up in picturesque spots of Rome, witnessing an event seen as a way of uniting conservative and reformist wings of Catholicism.

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