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The dual canonizations on Sunday bring forth many observations and footnotes.

Call this "notes on the historic canonizations":

-- First and foremost was the issue of crowds.

-- The Vatican did an incredible job inside the barricaded Square, which folks needed a ticket to enter. Mine was red and I had to show it to at least twenty different guards before reaching a seat.

-- The demeanor inside the Square was remarkably civilized and sedate, although reaching the Square, and funneling through carious barricade entranceways, and then security, was a great test of patience, faith, and endurance. More on the crowds in a moment.

-- The surprise of the day was the reaction or lack thereof when the two Popes were officially declared as saints. There was a modest eruption of applause. This was for several reasons -- the way it was done in an understated manner by Francis, with little drama leading up to it (it came just under fifteen minutes into the ceremony, before Mass, with no translation into languages like Italian, Spanish, or English) and thus one was unsure, but for hearing "sanctus," if it even was the official declaration, and perhaps the exhaustion of many in the crowd. There wasn't the massive outpouring one anticipated, but the Mass was so exquisite it made up for this -- as did the simple, historic site of St. Peter's -- those august stones -- with the papal banners.

-- It was also remarkable how the Vatican organized the seating of various "dignitaries" and Church officials, not to mention the media, who were a ways behind us, on a structure of semi-enclosed scaffolding that was three stories tall: there were many layer of organizational challenges, all of which were met to produce a highly artistic, as well as holy, liturgy. The singing was incredible; those who read at the podium were remarkable. The tonation and coordination in the Square had a touch of the heavenly, as did the banners of the two Popes, which seemed luminous.

-- Once in the Square, you could not leave until Pope Francis met each dignitary and the Popemobile made its rounds, which meant that from entrance into the Square around seven or eight a.m. to pushing out with massive crowds at the end tallied to six hours for most people.

-- Even in the Square, and reasonably close, it was difficult to tell all that was transpiring. Few knew that Lech Walesa was up there, to the left of Pope Francis, although one could distinguish a couple of kings and queens (and Newt Gingrich, who entered as we did). More important: there were relics of both saints up there (John Paul II's blood, skin from John XXIII).

-- On the initial approach to the Square, one walked side by side with cardinals (follow the red cap, was one way of finding the entrance) and bishops.

-- It was an interesting juxtaposition: cardinals (and Pope Benedict XVI) on the right of Pope Francis, the worldly leaders and representatives to his left. It was a huge display of the spiritual versus worldly sides that the Church attempts to balance.

-- Many priests could not get inside the Square (because they had no tickets).

-- The issue of declaring beatifications and sainthood without the old standard of miracles may be a future point of discussion. Pope John XXIII, of course, had only "one" verified miracle, and Pope Francis has been allowing some beatifications without the old standard of medically-verifiable "miraculous" cures.

-- Then again, many miracles -- most -- go unreported. There is a famous case whereby in 1963 two trapped miners both saw John XXIII in a coal mine, dressed simply in cassock and surplice, looking half his age (he had died twelve weeks before). A barrage of psychological evaluations and even polygraphs backed up the notion that these miners had seen him, and had drawn comfort from his presence -- which lasted for a week, until their rescue.

-- How many miracles have occurred through the intercession of John Paul II is anyone's guess. There already is at least one major book on them -- and the book came out a couple of years ago. Look for him to become an intercessor on par with some of the more prominent saints. What a feeling it was to see his banner! (And his tomb, which now says "sanctus").

-- There was such a feeling across Rome. Many had surprising spiritual experiences far from the festivities; for me the most powerful one came during prayer three miles away in a hotel room. The Vatican itself, including St. Peter's (and of course the Sistine chapels), along with the major basilicas throughout the city, had been turned into museums: crowded, with everyone holding a cell phone or iPad to take pictures, such that a prayerful atmosphere in churches themselves was missing in action.

-- The media are reporting 500,000 to one million in attendance, with many citing the figure of 800,000 (this from Vatican Radio).

-- Originally, estimates were that anywhere from a million to five million would be in Rome for it. There certainly were not five million, and the city seemed well able, in some regards, to handle the additional throngs -- except near the Vatican itself, where chaos reigned, and where the well-being of many faithful was threatened as they stood should to shoulder and hip to hip and foot to foot with folks for as long as nine straight hours, crammed like proverbial sardines, with a complete inability to move, at times swept from their feet when the crowd began shifting in a certain direction, carrying them to no one knew where.

-- Many spent the entire morning like this (from early hours) and for some it was all night. Thousands (including elderly) slept on the streets before the crowd got to the point where there was no room to sleep.

-- These crowds filled several streets leading up to the Vatican, and their number may well have exceeded the number likewise crammed in the Square (for those lucky enough to have secured tickets). The Square is said to hold 400,000, and doubling that comes to 800,000, though as stated there may have been more than that on the streets, and tens of thousands were elsewhere in the city, watching the event on a large screen outside of Saint Mary Major Basilica or on television, in the convenience of a hotel.

-- For after all those hours and all that jostling (for the most part with no real restroom facilities), many were unable to follow the Mass; the television screens were in many cases inadequate; nor could many receive Communion.

-- The sacrifice of these people so that they could simply be near the canonization is going to bring them extra graces, for certain.

-- The guides said that John Paul II's beatification had drawn a crowd that may have been nearly as large, as had the canonization of Saint Padre Pio. But this was probably the biggest. What effect a double-canonization had on crowd size and enthusiasm (naturally, it removed a certain focus) is difficult to tell. It was a delight to see John XXIII canonized -- this was a man who emanated kindness a pastoral kindness. His approval

-- Michael H. Brown, 4/30/2014

[We would like to thank Milanka Lachman of 206 Tours in New York for arranging our pilgrimage and the tickets for us to take a special priest into the Square]

[Note also: Michael Brown retreats: Philadelphia-New Jersey]

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