VATICAN CITY -- By train, bus, car and on foot, pilgrims and tourists streamed into Rome on Saturday to participate in the ceremony in St. Peter's Square that will see two popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, be proclaimed saints.
Italy's interior minister says as many as 1 million people could be drawn to Rome for the extraordinary occurrence of two pontiffs being canonized at a Mass on Sunday where two living popes will be present. The Vatican has confirmed that retired Benedict XVI will help Pope Francis and dozens of cardinals celebrate the Mass outside St. Peter's Basilica.
The square will open to the faithful Sunday morning before dawn, and many people had spread out sleeping bags and mats in the area just outside the Vatican in hopes of securing prime viewing spots. The sound of hymns being sung in Italian, Polish, English and other languages could be heard Saturday in much of Rome as pilgrims made their way through the capital heading from buses and trains toward the Vatican. Some pilgrims set out weeks ago from Poland to make the journey by foot; others were arriving by horseback.
Tens of thousands of faithful, many of them young people, will pack several churches throughout Rome late Saturday for a prayer vigil.
Retired pontiff Benedict XVI will help Pope Francis celebrate the sainthood ceremony Sunday for John Paul II and John XXIII, setting the stage for an unprecedented occurrence of two living popes canonizing two of their predecessors.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters on Saturday that Benedict will be in St. Peter's Square for the canonization of John and John Paul. He said Benedict and many cardinals will "concelebrate" the Mass with Francis.
Benedict resigned from the papacy a year ago, and since has largely dedicated himself to prayer in a monastery on the Vatican grounds. Sunday's appearance will be his highest-profile one since he retired. Francis, who lives elsewhere in Vatican City, in a guesthouse, has been quite welcoming to his predecessor, occasionally paying a call on Benedict. It was Francis who sought to include Benedict in Sunday's ceremony, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of tourists and pilgrims.
"Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the invitation, and has let Pope Francis know that he will be present tomorrow morning at the canonization ceremony and will concelebrate" along with other prelates, Lombardi said.
"That doesn't mean that he will go up on the altar" on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, Lombardi said of the outdoor Mass. He noted that during the ceremony, cardinals and bishops will be seated on one side of the esplanade, with, presumably, Benedict, among them.