Pope canonizes five new saints before crowd of 1 million

Monday, May 5, 2003

MADRID, Spain -- Showing unusual energy, Pope John Paul II proclaimed five new saints Sunday before a crowd of 1 million people as he urged Spaniards to remain faithful to the Roman Catholic Church.

Facing the vast crowd spread out in the form of a cross, John Paul spoke in a strong and clear voice in the major event of his weekend visit to Spain.

"Don't break with your Christian roots," the frail 82-year-old pope said during a three-hour Mass, taking up a theme he has sounded across an increasingly secular Europe.

The Spanish royal family and most members of the government attended the service, with the vast congregation filling four boulevards intersecting at Madrid's central Plaza de Colon, where a white altar was erected.

The pope sat in a special hydraulic chair on wheels that allows him to celebrate Mass without getting up. He suffers from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease -- slurred speech and trembling hands -- and crippling hip and knee ailments.

John Paul uses the chair in St. Peter's Basilica, but it was the first time the Vatican brought it on a foreign trip.

Ambitious agenda

He held up remarkably well on his first journey abroad in nine months, the start of an ambitious travel agenda for the most traveled pope in history. In June, he is scheduled to visit Croatia -- trip No. 100 -- and Bosnia.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Sunday that "if everything goes as expected," John Paul will visit Mongolia in August and the Vatican is hoping to arrange a historic stopover in Russia en route. It would be the first papal visit to Russia ever.

The Russian Orthodox Church has been opposed to such a stop, accusing the Roman Catholic Church of seeking converts in traditionally Orthodox lands.

The pope and his entourage returned to Rome late Sunday. During a brief departure ceremony attended by dignitaries and several hundred Spanish citizens, guards held babies out for the pope to kiss. Queen Sofia appeared to be crying as she kneeled down to kiss the pontiff's hand and say goodbye.

The earlier Madrid ceremony canonized two priests and three nuns, all 20th-century figures commemorated for their work with the poor. Giant pictures of the five hung from an office building overlooking the plaza.

One of the priests, Pedro Poveda, was assassinated in 1936 during the opening days of the Spanish Civil War.

The church claims 4,184 clergy were killed during the war by the government, or Republican, side, which accused the church of backing fascist Gen. Francisco Franco.

The other four new saints are Angela de la Cruz, who founded the Sisters of the Company of the Cross; Genoveva Torres, who founded the Sisters of the Sacred Heart and of the Holy Angels; Maravillas de Jesus, who founded convents for the Order of Barefoot Carmelites; and Jose Maria Rubio, a Jesuit priest.

The pope called them "marvelous examples" for Spanish Catholics. The Vatican says more than 90 percent of Spaniards are Catholic, although surveys show church attendance has declined in recent decades.

John Paul said Catholicism was an integral part of the Spanish identity. Only by keeping their faith, the pope said, can Spaniards give "the world and Europe the cultural richness of your history."

Sunday's service raised to 469 the number of saints John Paul has proclaimed in his nearly 25-year papacy. He is the church's No. 1 saint-maker, stressing the need for role models for today's Catholics.

In the crowd, people carried banners or pictures of their favorite saints.

Elisa Ramo, 66, supported the canonization of Poveda, saying, "It sends the message that we should end all hatred and all killing."

The plaza filled up long before the Mass with worshippers carrying beach chairs, binoculars and sandwiches, playing tambourines and singing.

"I love to see the pope. It makes me feel renewed," said Nuria Moreno, 68. "I don't need to touch him or hear him. Seeing him is enough."

Eight giant television screens were set up around the plaza for people to watch the Mass, and communion was distributed by 1,500 priests shuttling around in minibuses.

Spanish newspapers and worshippers remarked that the pope, making his fifth visit to Spain, looked better than they expected. The pope turns 83 on May 18. Aides wheel him on a trolley because of his difficulty walking.

"I found him quite rejuvenated," said Nori Ramirez, a 46-year-old maid. "I expected him to be more frail. This pope is an exceptional man. Many others could not put up with all this commotion."

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