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John Paul II beatified in Vatican City ceremony

Graphic locating where John Paul's remains will be moved in St. Peter's Basilica after his beatification ceremony in St. Peter's Square in Rome. MCT 2011<p>

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Yingling
Graphic locating where John Paul's remains will be moved in St. Peter's Basilica after his beatification ceremony in St. Peter's Square in Rome. MCT 2011<p> 08000000; 12000000; HUM; krtcampus campus; krtfeatures features; krthumaninterest human interest; krtnews; krtreligion religion; krtworld world; REL; krt; 2011; krt2011; mctgraphic; 08003000; ODD; PEO; people; krtworldnews; 12009010; krtchristianity christianity; roman catholic; ITA; italy; krteurope europe; VAT; vatican city; krt mct; yingling; beatification; beatified; bless; blessed; ceremony; chapel; john paul ii; map; miracle; pope; saint; sainthood; st. peter's square; st. sebastian; krtjohnpaul

VATICAN CITY — Before hundreds of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, the late Pope John Paul II was beatified Sunday in a ceremony that declared him “”blessed”” and put him one step closer to sainthood.

The audience erupted in applause when the Pope Benedict XVI recited the words that elevated his predecessor, whose huge portrait was then unveiled over the doorway of the basilica.

A choir broke into a chorus of “”Amens”” as some in the crowd wept. The French nun whose healing from Parkinson’s disease was called a miracle performed by John Paul presented Benedict with a reliquary containing a vial of the late pope’s blood, which will become an object of veneration.

The beatification, just six years after John Paul’s death on April 2, 2005, was the fastest in modern times. Benedict waived the usual five-year waiting period before the lengthy canonization process is supposed to begin, a decision that some have criticized as hasty and political.

But the devotees who thronged the square and the streets leading into it dismissed such criticism, focusing instead on the positive legacy of a man who stood up to communism, traveled the world to renew the faith and survived a 1981 assassination attempt.

“”He was admired as a saint when he was alive,”” said Beata Klepacka, 31, a doctor who came to Rome from London with her family to attend the ceremony.

Rain and gray skies from the previous day gave way to sunshine Sunday morning as pilgrims from around the world streamed into St. Peter’s Square. Flags and banners marked out groups from as far away as South Africa and Brazil, the world’s most populous Roman Catholic country.

Huge crowds built up in the streets around Vatican City as police closed off the square, which was already fully packed hours before the ceremonial Mass began at 10 a.m. Ambulances and rescue officials carried away those overcome by the heat or by the crush of people.

Benedict wore in the vestments of his popular and charismatic predecessor, whose papacy lasted 27 years. Flanking the pope on the basilica’s portico were cardinals and other high-ranking members of the Vatican hierarchy. Several foreign heads of state also attended, including Robert Mugabe, the controversial president of Zimbabwe.

The ceremony is likely to provide a morale boost for the Catholic Church, which has been rocked in recent years by allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Various investigations have uncovered systematic abuse in Catholic institutions around the world, as well as efforts by some church officials to cover up what happened and shield perpetrators from criminal punishment.

One victims’ rights group said it would spend Sunday distributing leaflets outside churches in seven countries asking congregants to pledge to report suspicions of abuse to civil authorities. Many abuse victims say John Paul did little to deal with the problem and that his beatification adds insult to their injury.

Critics also condemn his close ties to Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Mexican founder of the powerful order Legion of Christ, who was found to have abused seminarians and fathered children.

Beatification is the last step before full sainthood. To achieve that status, John Paul must be determined by the Vatican to have performed another miracle besides the curing of the nun with Parkinson’s disease.

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