About 20 Jewish leaders from the U.S., Israel, Italy, Francis’ native Argentina and Poland took part in the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II by Pope Francis in front of some 800,000 people on Sunday in an unprecedented ceremony made even more historic by the presence of emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square.
With the canonization, a holy relic for each of the popes was formally presented to the altar before the crowds. Giant banners showing the faces of the two late popes hung on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.
In his homily, Francis described the pair as “men of courage” who bore witness to God’s mercy.
“They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century,” he said. “They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful, faith was more powerful.”
The Jewish delegation attended to show a clear sign of their appreciation for the great strides made in Catholic-Jewish relations under John, John Paul and their successors celebrating their sainthood.
The huge crowds present in Rome reflect the fact that both men were popular in life and known for their efforts to reach out to ordinary people, a path which Francis also seems determined to follow.
The event was the biggest in Vatican City since the election of Pope Francis last year.