Three monarchs were present at an open air mass in St Peter's Square in the Vatican City this morning as the late popes John XXIII and John Paul II were canonised by the current Pope.
John Paul II, who reigned from 1978 till his death in 2005, was beatified in 2011 and his canonisation is the fastest since saints ceased being declared by local acclamation and became the exclusive prerogative of the reigning pontiff nearly a thousand years ago. John XXIII, whose pontificate lasted from 1958 to his death in 1963, was beatified in 2000.
The Catholic Church normally requires two so-called "miracles" for someone to be declared saints, but Pope Francis chose to waive this rule in the case of John XXIII, as he has done in other recent cases. It is assumed that Pope Francis may feel some sort of identification with the folksy, easy-going, much-loved John XXIII.
It is the first time that two popes have been canonised at the same time and it has been suggested that Pope Francis chose to canonise the progressive John XXIII together with the conservative John Paul II, whose canonisation he "inherited" from his predecessor, in order to appeal to progressives as well as conservatives, although this has been denied by the Vatican, which insists that they do no make such political considerations.
The canonisation mass drew huge crowds to the Vatican, and among the guests were members of several Catholic royal families. The King and Queen of Spain, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and the Sovereign Prince and Princess of Liechtenstein headed the guest list, while the King of the Belgians was represented by his parents, King Albert and Queen Paola. It was interesting to note that Queen Paola, like Queen Sofía and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, exercised the privilège du blanc, which gives the wives of Catholic monarchs the right to wear white rather than black in the presence of the Pope. However, Queen Paola wore black for a private audience with Pope Francis yesterday (while her daughter, Princess Astrid, wore a white jacket over a black dress). Princess Marie of Liechtenstein wore black, indicating that the privilege has still not been extended to the consort of the Sovereign Prince of Liechtenstein.
The only Protestant royal house represented was the British (although Britain is officially a Protestant country there are now almost more Catholics than Anglicans in Britain), which sent the Duke of Gloucester, a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, and his wife.
The Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg were accompanied by their daughter-in-law, Hereditary Grand Duchess Stéphanie, and two of their sons, Louis and Sébastien. Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein, who is his country's ambassador to the Holy See, attended with his Luxembourgian wife Margaretha (their was the last marriage between two reigning European royal houses), their son Josef-Emanuel, and one of their daughters (Maria-Anunciata, I believe).
Also in attendance were Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland and his predecessor but one Aleksander Kwasniewski, and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
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