Worldwide celebrations for the most travelled pope in history

CATHOLICS worldwide celebrated the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II, with the faithful jamming into churches to pray and witness on giant television screens the Vatican ceremony that brought him one step closer to possible sainthood.

Pope Benedict XVI bestowed one of the Catholic Church’s greatest honours to Polish-born Karol Wojtyla, the most travelled Pope ever, having visited 129 countries in his 27-year papacy.

In the Philippines, thousands of worshippers flocked to see mementoes from his visit 16 years ago.

A church in Manila displayed a small piece of a cassock worn by the late pope and given by a Vatican official to a Filipino priest. Thousands have lined up to touch or kiss the scant piece.

Another such piece of clothing, also from the Vatican, has reportedly cured several patients at a state-run Manila hospital.

A Chinese restaurant in the capital’s suburban Quezon City has displayed a set of plates, spoon, fork, water goblet and knives, still unwashed after the pope used them in a 1995 dinner of grilled fish and fried shrimp.

The pontiff has a wide following in the Philippines, where authorities foiled a terrorist plot to assassinate him during a visit in 1995. Nearly 10,000 babies were named after him.

In John Paul’s native Poland, tens of thousands of people gathered in rain in a major sanctuary in Krakow and in Wadowice, where the pontiff was born in 1920. Prime minister Donald Tusk and his wife, Malgorzata, watched the ceremony with Wadowice residents.

Hundreds of Australians gathered at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney to celebrate the beatification, with special prayer services held inside and a carnival atmosphere outside.

Live coverage of the ceremony was broadcast on a giant screen in the cathedral’s forecourt, which had food stalls catering to the crowds and music groups performing.

Cardinal George Pell said he had no doubt that John Paul would be canonised — officially declared a saint — but noted it was a long process.

“He’ll be declared Blessed, there’ll be a pause — I don’t know three years, five years, some period of time, before he’s canonised,” Pell said. “But he’s making pretty good time.”

In South Korea, about 800 Catholics attended a Mass celebrating the beautification at a church in Hwaseong, just south of Seoul.

A delegation of 107 South Korean Catholics travelled to Rome to witness the rites.

John Paul visited South Korea twice — in 1984 and 1989.

Meanwhile, thousands of Mexicans held a prayer vigil in Mexico City’s Virgin of Guadalupe Basilica on Saturday while two large screens inside the church projected the celebrations in Rome.

On Saturday night, dozens of mainly young people gathered at the Basilica to wait overnight for the culmination of John Paul’s beatification.

In 2002, during his final visit to Mexico, John Paul canonised Juan Diego as the first indigenous saint in the Americas.


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