VATICAN CITY — Crowd control experts were rushing to ready Rome for an estimated 2 million pilgrims for Pope John Paul II's beatification on May 1, when the city will be thronged with Easter week tourists.
No tickets or invitations will be necessary — as many faithful who want to be there to see the Polish-born pontiff beatified, the last formal step before possible sainthood, can come, a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Saturday.
"We don't give estimates" of the size of the crowds who will come, Benedettini said. But Italian news reports say authorities in Rome plan for 2 million pilgrims.
With St. Peter's Square and the boulevard leading from the Tiber to the Vatican able to hold a few hundred thousand people, large video screens are expected to be set up in nearby streets so the spillover crowd can watch the ceremony led by Pope Benedict XVI.
The last crowd of such a size in Rome was the 3 million mourners for John Paul's funeral and other ceremonies following his death in April 2005.
Even the more popular ceremonies in his papacy didn't come close to drawing so many faithful. When an ailing John Paul beatified Mother Teresa in 2003 in St. Peter's Square, 300,000 pilgrims attended. Padre Pio's sainthood ceremony, led by John Paul in June 2002, saw about 200,000 faithful in one of the larger turnouts in his 26-year papacy.
In 2000, about 700,000 young Catholics streamed into Rome for church World Youth Day events stretched out over several days at locations throughout the city as well as at the Vatican.
On Friday, Benedict set the date for beatification after declaring that a French nun's recovery from Parkinson's disease was the miracle needed for John Paul to be beatified. A second miracle, attributed to John Paul's intercession after the beatification ceremony, will be needed for the widely popular pontiff to be honored with sainthood.
Once he is beatified, John Paul will be given the title "blessed" and can be publicly venerated.
Veneration is the word commonly used to refer to that worship given to saints, either directly or through images or relics, which is different in kind from the divine worship given to God only, according to the Catholic Encyclopaedic Dictionary.