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Festive pilgrims celebrate John Paul II

Pilgrims thronged Saint Peter's Square for John Paul II's beatification on Sunday, many having camped nearby after a night of prayer dubbed by the Vatican a "Feast of Faith".

world Updated: May 01, 2011 14:01 IST

Pilgrims thronged Saint Peter's Square for John Paul II's beatification on Sunday, many having camped nearby after a night of prayer dubbed by the Vatican a "Feast of Faith".

The million-strong crowd -- many of them young people who said they were inspired by John Paul II's example -- filled the square and snaked back along the main Rome avenue leading to the Vatican as the beatification mass got under way.

Some pilgrims intoned religious songs near St Peter's famous colonnade, where a large poster with John Paul's image hung with one of the late pope's famous phrases: "Open wide the doors to Christ."

Thousands of pilgrims had come from John Paul's native Poland and some of them waved flags from the historic trade union movement Solidarity, which the late pope supported in its struggle against communist power in the 1980s.

"I feel very excited. It's a great opportunity to share this historical moment. We didn't sleep all night but I'm more excited than tired," said Belen Lavilla, 12, who came by boat from Barcelona with hundreds of young people.

A Polish woman in a cream-coloured national dress with red flowers, 48-year-old Margerit Solik said: "It's a great day full of emotion!"

Stanislaw Motyka, 62, who also wore a traditional Polish costume, said the vigil before John Paul's beatification had been "absolutely magical".

"My only hope is to live to see him be made a saint," he said.

Volunteers handed out bottles of water for the pilgrims and service sheets for the beatification in six languages. Large speakers relayed religious songs and some of John Paul's most beloved prayers in honour of the Virgin Mary.

"We have come to thank him for all his good work," said Olivier, a pilgrim wrapped in a French flag, as he strummed a guitar near the square.

Therese, a woman from Benin in a colourful tunic with John Paul's portrait, said: "He was a charismatic man. I would have liked to have spoken to him."

Fabrizio, a Polish-Italian friar, said: "He gave us freedom in Poland. Freedom from communism, but also a kind of inner freedom."

A woman from Nigeria, Ada, said simply: "He was a light for the world."

Hundreds also gathered at the Circus Maximus, an ancient Roman arena where some 200,000 pilgrims had celebrated John Paul's remarkable papacy at an emotional prayer vigil on Saturday including some of his closest aides.

"Thank you to all the young people. John Paul II who sees you from up there is happy!" Marie Simon-Pierre, a French nun whose recovery from Parkinson's disease qualified as a requisite "miracle" for the beatification, told the crowd.

She paid tribute to "a shepherd... who was closest to the weak, the sick and the young." The Vatican needs to certify a second miracle attributed to John Paul before he can be made a saint but has hinted this could happen soon.