By AFP, Herald Sun
THOUSANDS of pilgrims swarmed into central Rome amid tight security measures on the eve of a ceremony for late pope John Paul II’s beatification, a critical step towards sainthood.
“I couldn’t miss this, I had to be a part of such a historic moment. We’ve only just arrived but the atmosphere’s great, it’s really exciting,” said Patricia Wocial, 48, who had come from Britain with her young daughters.
Some 500,000 pilgrims are expected for the beatification, which will confer the status of “blessed” on the pope, who survived an assassination attempt and helped fight Communist rule during his nearly 27 years in office.
John Paul became pope in 1978 – the first non-Italian pope in more than four centuries. After 104 foreign trips and a pontificate that gave new strength to the Catholic Church, he died in 2005 following years of ill health.
The late pope’s coffin has been brought out of its resting place in a crypt under Saint Peter’s basilica, and a phial of John Paul’s blood, drawn from him during his illness, has been prepared as a relic for veneration.
At least 100,000 people are expected to attend the vigil to hear those who were close to John Paul II speak, including his former personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.
Among the speakers will be Marie Simon-Pierre, the French nun whose miraculous healing from Parkinson’s disease is the official justification for John Paul II’s beatification after years of research by the Vatican.
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