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The Roman Catholic Church yesterday canonised the late popes John XXIII and John Paul II as saints of the world’s largest Christian congregation in front of an estimated 800 000-g gathering in and around St Peter’s Square here, with President Mugabe joining 23 other leaders at the historic ceremony.

Pope Francis oversaw the canonisation, which was the first time in the church’s history that two popes were elevated to sainthood on the same day.

It was also the first time that two popes, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, were present at the same canonisation.

With President Mugabe were First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe, Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa, and other officials.

At the canonisation mass in front of the imposing dome of St Peter’s Basilica, President Mugabe and Pope Francis met and shared a few words. President Mugabe also attended Pope Francis’ inauguration at Vatican City last year.

The ceremony was broadcast live across the world and watched by a reported two billion people.

Traditionally, the church first verifies two miracles attributable to a person and takes into regard life-long commitment to cardinal and Biblical virtues before one can be canonised, and this is normally done at least five years after death.

However, John Paul II was put on the fast-track to sainthood by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, when he was beatified in 2011 and was canonised yesterday. He is also credited with healing two women who had Parkinson’s disease and a brain aneurysm, respectively.

For John XXIII, Pope Francis waived the miracles requirement and canonised him in recognition of his reforms of the church through the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council.

Pope Francis said saints gave direction and brought growth to the church.

“In convening the (Second Vatican) Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the church’s pastor, a servant-leader. This was his great service to the church, he was the pope of openness to the Spirit.

“In his own service to the people of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family.

“I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.

“May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the church, so that during this two-year journey towards the synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family.

“May both of them teach us not to be scandalised by the wounds of Christ and to enter even more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.” Speaking in Latin, he added: “We declare and define as saints the blessed John XXIII and John Paul II.”

While hundreds of thousands packed St Peters Square, even more filled the avenues leading to St Peter’s Basilica and were favoured with greetings from Pope Francis when — after the mass and canonisation — went around in the “Pope Mobile”.

Mr Tinashe Wunganayi, who is at a seminary in Rome to train as a Catholic priest, said: “When there are such events, to show that we are from Zimbabwe we go with our flag. We are very proud to be Zimbabweans and our President is known the world-over, he is famous.”

Afterwards, President Mugabe held a closed-door meeting with representatives of the Community of Sant’Egidio, which played a key role in brokering the 1992 Rome Accord that led to an end to the Mozambique civil war between the Frelimo government and Renamo rebels.

It could not be established what was discussed in the meeting, but indications at the time of writing were that the issue of renewed attacks on the Frelimo government and civilians by Renamo fighters, led by Afonso Dhlakama.

The Community of Sant’Egidio is officially recognised by the Catholic Church as a “public lay association” and has 50 00 members in more than 70 countries.

They also have peace initiatives in Algeria, the Balkans and the DRC among other countries.

Source : The Herald

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