VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has never seen this before.
On Sunday, two living popes, the current Pope Francis and his now retired predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, will celebrate a Mass of canonization for two former pontiffs, declaring as saints Pope John Paul XXIII and Pope John Paul II.
A record-breaking 2 million people are expected to descend upon Rome starting Saturday, hoping to be in St. Peter’s Square to witness the canonization ceremonies in the open piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. The square was filled with half that number for the open-air Mass Francis celebrated Easter Sunday.
To ease gridlock, law enforcement authorities in Rome are planning to set up roadblocks on the edge of the city, allowing only pilgrims on feet and some 2,000 registered tour buses to enter the city limits.
Delegations from more than 90 countries and 24 heads of state are expected to attend Sunday’s double canonization.
More than 150 bishops and cardinals will participate in the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis as part of Sunday’s double canonization ceremony, along with some 600 priests required to administer communion to the Catholic faithful.
As WND reported Thursday, President Obama has sent to represent the United States a delegation of three Democrats with a history of supporting abortion, a move that reflects Obama’s determination to force faith-based groups to pay for abortions and contraception as part of Obamacare.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a canonization of two popes as saints together,” New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan said.
“You’ve got a good chunk of humanity who can remember vividly these two men. This is going to be a very vivid way to say that holiness, heroic sanctity, the pursuit of virtue is for today. These are two men, both of whom would say, ‘There’s nothing saintly about me. I’m a sinner. I need God’s grace and mercy.’”
In an unprecedented move, the Vatican announced St. Peter’s Square will be open to the public at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, as local roads in the immediate vicinity of the square will be accessible only by foot.
In another unprecedented move, the Vatican has declined to issue tickets through the local parishes in Rome or to VIPs internationally, meaning all access to St. Peter’s Square will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. All who plan to be in St. Peter’s Square for the canonization ceremonies will be required to pass though metal detectors run by Vatican security in conjunction with civil law enforcement authorities.
Crowds are expected to begin gathering Saturday night, with the most determined of the faithful planning to wait in line all night to be sure they are able to get in to the square.
To deal with the unprecedented crowd, the Vatican has arranged for the some 600 volunteers from all across Italy to be part of a red-uniformed Red Cross task force. The volunteers will be deployed along with 23 special ambulances to deal with critical emergencies, 33 regular ambulances, a mobile reanimation unit, 43 health-care teams on foot, a Code White or pediatric emergency tent and four “Mom Points” for families with small children.
Dedicated websites on Twitter (@CRI_RM) and Facebook have been set up to transmit real-time information and to post alerts dealing with heath and weather emergencies in English, French, Italian, Polish and Spanish.
On Thursday, the first charter flight from Poland arrived at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport, carrying 90 pilgrims waving national flags and wearing scarves with the papal symbol. Among them were families from Krakow, Pavianice and Lodz who want to pay tribute to Polish-born John Paul II.