Benedict watches as Francis canonises two popes

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Pope Francis has declared two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, saints in an unprecedented canonisation ceremony made even more historic by the presence of retired Pope Benedict XVI.

Francis recited the saint-making formula in Latin, saying that after deliberating, consulting and praying for divine assistance “we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be saints and we enrol them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church”.

Benedict was sitting off to the side with other cardinals in St Peter’s Square during the rite at the start of Sunday’s Mass. He and Francis briefly greeted one another after Francis arrived.

Never before have a reigning and retired pope celebrated Mass together in public, much less at an event honouring two of their most famous predecessors.

Benedict’s presence was a reflection of the balancing act that Francis envisioned when he decided to canonise John and John Paul together, showing the unity of the Catholic Church by honouring popes beloved to conservatives and progressives alike.

Francis made that point clear in his homily, praising both men for their work associated with the Second Vatican Council, the ground-breaking meetings that brought the 2,000-year-old institution into modern times. John convened the council while John Paul helped ensure its more conservative implementation and interpretation.