Crowds gather for beatification of late Pope John Paul II

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rome - Catholic faithful from around the world poured into Rome on Sunday as the Catholic Church declared Pope John Paul II "blessed," a step below sainthood.

St. Peter's Square erupted into applause, tearful joy from the faithful of all ages, singing and hugging as the official moment came for the beatification of John Paul II and the large picture of the Polish pope under the Benediction Loggia was unveiled.

The Vatican Press Office confirmed that according to Rome's security forces, over one million people have gathered in the area of Saint Peter's Square, and other locations in the city linked to the Basilica tanks to maxi-screens, to attend to beatification of John Paul II.

Credited with helping to topple Communism, visiting more countries than any previous pope, and becoming the first pontiff from outside of Italy in 450 years, John Paul II also was the third-longest reigning pope in history.

The Vatican suggests he was seen in person by more than anyone else in human history, between his 104 foreign trips and the roughly 17 million pilgrims who saw him at his audiences at the Vatican over his long reign.

He was fast-tracked to beatification when he died in 2005, and becomes "the blessed" John Paul II barely six years after his death.

For beatification, a person must be credited with a miracle by the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI ruled last year that John Paul II had miraculously cured a French nun of Parkinson's disease after his death. The pope himself suffered from the condition.