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John Paul II, John XXIII proclaimed saints before crowds in Rome

Pope Francis proclaimed his two predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, saints in a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday.

“These were two men of courage, filled with the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy,” Francis said.

“They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful.”

John XXIII, who died in 1963, started the process of reform in the Catholic church, while John Paul II — who died nine years ago — is seen as a charismatic conservative who connected with people.

It was now-retired pope Benedict who put John Paul II on the fast-track to sainthood just weeks after the Polish pontiff’s death in 2005, and it became the fastest canonization in modern times.

Archdiocese of Toronto spokesman Neil MacCarthy was in Rome alongside Cardinal Thomas Collins and other pilgrims from Toronto.

He said the ceremony was made more special because Benedict was there.

“It was a very moving moment when the pope emeritus Benedict came out very simply, very quietly — just came out from the entrance to St Peter’s and kind of took his place to the side of the altar beside the cardinals of the world,” MacCarthy said.

“And obviously when people recognized that it was the retired pontiff that came out they started to clap.”

MacCarthy says it was drizzling and crowded — more than a half million people attended — but he was happy to be there in person.

Kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers from more than 90 countries were on hand.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino represented Canada.

Jewish leaders from the U.S., Israel, Italy, Poland and Pope Francis’ native Argentina also took part.

With files from Reuters