Festive mood in Rome as pilgrims gather for canonisations

Clerical sex abuse victims group stages protest over ‘promotion’ of John Paul II


The mood was festive in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican today as thousands of people from around the world began to gather for tomorrow morning’s canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.

There are very many Polish here but also large contingents from South America, particularly from Brazil and Argentina. And this reporter spotted one Irish tricolour but on investigation it was discovered that the owner “had gone for a walk.”

Groups of young people lay out in the sun, many on mats on which they planned to sleep overnight in order to hold their spot in the Square for tomorrow’s events.

Earlier, it was confirmed that retired Pope Benedict XVI will attend the ceremonies, where he will sit with the cardinals and bishops to the left of the sanctuary.

Also seated there from Ireland will be the Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady, the former Archbishop of Dublin Cardinal Desmond Connell and the Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be seated with the heads of state and prime ministers to the right of the sanctuary. Delegations from more than 100 countries and at least 24 Heads of State are expected to attend.

Two banners of the two soon-to-be saints now hang on the façade of St Peter’s Basilica as pilgrims stream into St Peter’s Square and into Rome.

Civil security forces are in position, city roads have been closed to traffic and the subway system will run nonstop this weekend to accommodate the hundreds of thousands.

Authorities expect about one million people to gather in the square and along the Via della Conciliazione, which leads up to St Peter’s Basilica, for the Mass itself.

Thousands of others instead will gather in about a dozen or so public squares around the city, where the Mass will be projected onto big screens.

Here at the Vatican, the last of the preparations are underway, as 2,000 journalists have arrived to cover the events

The US-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) staged a candle-lit vigil on the rooftop of a hotel near the Vatican in protest at the canonisation of Pope John Paul II, which they have described as “irresponsible and hurtful”.

The group said he “must have known” about the multiple sexual abuse allegations against Legionaries of Christ founder Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado.

Instead of disciplining or defrocking Fr Maciel, Pope John Paul II held a “highly publicised special ceremony celebrating the anniversary of Maciel’s ordination.”

Holding candles, signs and childhood photos, the clergy sex abuse victims stood in their rooftop vigil with St Peter’s Basilica in the background. They also read aloud an open letter - in French, German, Spanish and English - to victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers, urging them to keep speaking up and reporting crimes, “even though complicit Catholic officials (including Pope John Paul II) keep getting honored and promoted”.

They called for “every single incident or suspicion of clergy sex crimes and cover ups” to be reported to “secular officials, not church officials” to “boldly but compassionately keep reaching out and offering help to every single person who they know of or fear was sexually assaulted by clergy”.

They also made special reference to the “dozens of victims of the world’s most notorious predator priest – Fr Marcial Maciel – whose extensive crimes and misdeeds were ignored and hidden during Pope John Paul’s long papacy.”