VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI beatified Pope John Paul II before 1.5 million faithful in St. Peter's Square and surrounding streets Sunday, moving the beloved former pontiff one step closer to possible sainthood in one of the largest turnouts ever for a Vatican Mass.
The crowd in Rome and in capitals around the world erupted in cheers, tears and applause as an enormous photo of a young, smiling John Paul was unveiled over the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica and a choir launched into hymn long associated with the Polish-born pope.
"He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope," Benedict said in his homily, referring to John Paul's decisive role in helping bring down communism. Benedict dotted his remarks with personal recollections of a man he came to "revere" during their near-quarter century working together.
Beatification is the first major milestone on the path to possible sainthood, one of the Catholic Church's highest honors. A second miracle attributed to John Paul's intercession is needed for him to be canonized.
The beatification, the fastest in modern times, is a morale boost for a church scarred by the sex abuse crisis, but it has also triggered a new wave of anger from victims because the scandal occurred under John Paul's 27-year watch.