LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — Catholics around the world are celebrating the declaration of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII as saints of the Catholic Church – an unprecedented event made even more historic by the presence of Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.

Never before has a reigning pope and retired pope publicly celebrated Mass together, much less at a ceremony honoring two of their most famous predecessors.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington D.C., celebrated Sunday with a Mass with Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City before hundreds of thousands of faithfuls.

“Today, the church canonized two holy men of our age, Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II. Each gave profound witness to the gospel, and this moment of grace provides an opportunity to express our appreciation for their lives, love and guidance,” Cardinal Wuerl said in a press release.

“Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who took the name John XXIII as pope, was truly a pastor of souls, observing that the answer to the many problems mankind faces today is the firm foundation of God…While he is primarily remembered for his prophetic calling of the Second Vatican Council, he should also be remembered for his work toward peace and fraternity with separated eastern Christians and his efforts to save Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution.”

Canonization, according to the Archdiocese of Washington, is the formal process by which the Catholic church declares a person to be a saint and worthy of veneration.

“The magisterium of John Paul II covered almost every aspect of human experience and the Church. He wrote and spoke about the divine mercy of Jesus, the unconditional love of our heavenly Father, the power of the Holy Spirit and the affection of our blessed Mother Mary,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “He taught us about the gift of the Eucharist, the truth and vocation of the human person, the beauty of a moral life, the blessing of marriage and family, the priesthood, social justice, the dignity of every human life and more. Those teachings alone have earned him the title ‘John Paul the Great.’”

There are three steps, according to the Archdiocese, to sainthood: a candidate becomes “venerable,” then “blessed” and finally a “saint.” Venerable is the title given to a deceased person formally recognized by the pope as having lived “heroic virtues.” To be recognized as a blessed, a “miracle” is usually acquired through the candidate’s intercession. Lastly, canonization requires a second miracle after beatification, though a pope may waive these requirements, as was the case for John XXIII.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore spoke exclusively with WNEW from Vatican City about the unconventional dual canonization.

“Certainly, there has never been a time when there have been four popes involved in one ceremony; two living popes and two being canonized,” Archbishop Lori said. “When Pope Francis went over and greeted [Pope Benedict XVI] at the beginning of the Mass, the crowd erupted in applause. I was with maybe 500,000, 600,000, 700,000 people and we were all just so happy to see that. It’s just a wonderful sign of the church’s unity.”

Archbishop Lori said the weather even seemed to change as history was made.

“It was looking like rain, and in fact I saw a couple of drops, but it held off. When John Paul II and John XXIII were declared saints, I’m not kidding you, the sun came out.”

Catholics in Washington on Sunday celebrated the sainthood of John Paul II by renaming a shrine devoted to his legacy.

A new exhibit commemorating John Paul II’s visit to Baltimore in 1995 opened last week at the basilica’s museum.


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