Retired pontiff Benedict XVI will help Pope Francis celebrate the sainthood ceremony today for John Paul II and John XXIII, setting the stage for an unprecedented occurrence of two living popes canonizing two of their predecessors. About 1 million pilgrims are expected at the event, and many were flooding into Rome on Saturday.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters Saturday that Benedict will be in St. Peter’s Square for the canonization of John and John Paul. He said Benedict and many cardinals will “concelebrate” the Mass with Francis.
Benedict resigned from the papacy a year ago, and since has largely dedicated himself to prayer in a monastery on the Vatican grounds. Today’s appearance will be his highest-profile one since he retired. Francis, who lives elsewhere in Vatican City, in a guesthouse, has been quite welcoming to his predecessor, occasionally paying a call on Benedict. It was Francis who sought to include Benedict in today’s cere- mony, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of tourists and pilgrims.
“Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the invitation and has let Pope Francis know that he will be present tomorrow morning at the canonization ceremony and will concelebrate” along with other prelates, Lombardi said.
“That doesn’t mean that he will go up on the altar” on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, Lombardi said of the outdoor Mass. He noted that during the ceremony, cardinals and bishops will be seated on one side of the esplanade with, presumably, Benedict among them.
“We will all be happy to have his presence” at the ceremony, the Vatican spokesman said.
Benedict also showed up to Francis’ ceremony to elevate churchmen to cardinal’s rank in February. But that ceremony wasn’t a Mass, meaning today’s appearance by two popes would be the first Mass concelebrated by two pontiffs, one reigning and the other retired.
As German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict presided over John Paul II’s funeral in the square in 2005. He was soon elected pontiff himself, going on to lead the ceremony to beatify his Polish-born predecessor in 2011, also in the square.