By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Roman Catholic leader Pope Benedict XVI today declared the late Pope John Paul II “blessed,” paving the way for sainthood before an expectant crowd of over 1 million at the Vatican.
Some 90 official delegations from around the world, as well as members of five European royal families and 16 heads of state, attended today’s beautification Mass.
St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican was packed with crowds eager to express their love for the former pope — the first non-Italian Catholic leader in 400 years and the first to come from Eastern Europe.
Italian pilgrim Federico Martinelli described the event as a triumph for the church.
“It is certainly a great celebration, a great celebration for everybody,” he told Reuters in St. Peter’s Square. “It is also a victory — sincerely speaking — a victory against all the opposition and a great confirmation of the pontificate of John Paul II.”
Pope John Paul II, a native Pole, died in 2005 after a 26-year pontificate.
He is known for his strong stance against totalitarianism — notably communism — and his push for more communication between differing faiths.