Pope John Paul II joins ranks of blessed

May 1, 2011 (VATICAN CITY)

Millions of Catholics around the world watched the ceremonies, and about 1.5 million people packed St. Peter's Square in Rome, making it one of the largest crowds ever for a Vatican mass.

Pope John Paul II's beatification took place under a brilliant blue sky, and many Chicagoans were in the crowd.

"This is like a dream come true," said Stephen Brehm, who traveled to Vatican City from Chicago. "I kept praying that I'd at least in this arena and not have to watch it on a television - make it worth the flight from Chicago to Italy."

A papal mass is always a majestic event and one to beatify a pope is even more so.

John Paul II's beatification moved ahead at an unprecedented pace.

The current pope, Benedict XVI, greeted the cheering crowd from an open-air popemobile, pausing to give his blessing to some of the youngest people in St. Peter's Square before beginning the mass.

There was a massive display of Polish cultural pride, including a sea of red and white flags. Poles call John Paul II their pope.

The climax of the event was the moment that Pope Benedict declared John Paul II as "blessed." The following ovation went on for nearly 10 minutes.

Then, to the delight of the crowd, a now-famous nun appeared on-stage: Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, the French nun who says her symptoms of Parkinson's disease disappeared after she prayed to the late pope, a miracle needed for beatification, according to the Vatican.

The nun carried a small receptacle containing a sample of John Paul's blood. It was taken from him prior to his death. Catholics call this a relic - in this case, literally a part of the person being honored by beatification.

The title of "blessed" means that the Church believes that John Paul II is now in heaven with God and can intercede with God on behalf of Catholics.

Sunday was a historic day which will never be forgotten for the multitude packed into St. Peter's Square for the mass.

The massive crowd for the ceremony spilled over into the streets surrounding St. Peter's and down the via della conciliatione, the famous boulevard that leads to the Vatican.

Getting close meant sleeping on the ground for the fortunate ones, and others did not even have space to lie down.

Reporting from Rome, ABC7's Alan Krashesky found Chicagoans who spent more than six hours in line.

Janina Gelica, who traveled to Rome from Chicago, said she stayed up all night before the mass, and that being at the ceremony was very important to her because "we loved our pope."

"It is the most important situation and date in my life," said Elizabeth Kalzamanska, who also traveled from Chicago for the ceremonies. "I would like to thank you, God, for this happy, happy day for us."

John Paul II's coffin was exhumed from his original tomb in the grotto in St. Peters' Basilica on Friday. It was moved inside the basilica close to the main altar for Sunday's mass. The pope, prominent Catholic figures and worshippers who filled the square had the opportunity to go inside and venerate or pay respects to John Paul II's coffin.

The Vatican said that all people who wish to venerate the coffin will have the opportunity to do so. After that, the coffin is to be moved to a new tomb on the main floor of the basilica.

John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI, have very different personalities. John Paul was described as having a rock-star persona, especially in his earlier days, and is often credited with being part of the inspiration for Poles to stand up to the Soviet Union. Benedict is a theologian and author of many books.

It is unclear when John Paul II might move onward on the path to sainthood, which would require an additional miracle authenticated by the Vatican.

Chicago's Francis Cardinal George told Krashesky that he knows of no miracles in the Chicago area that are under Vatican consideration in that regard.

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