MEXICO CITY – Tens of thousands of faithful around Latin America on Sunday celebrated the canonization of the late popes John Paul II and John XXIII with pre-dawn vigils, music, prayer and much faith, especially for the Polish pontiff so beloved across the region.
John Paul, who was born in Poland, was the main focus of the festivities, including in Costa Rica, where the church attributes to him the miraculous recovery of a woman who had an inoperable brain aneurysm. The woman, Floribeth Mora, attended the Sunday ceremony at the Vatican.
John Paul’s canonization also drew special attention in Mexico, where he is fondly remembered for his frequent visits to the region, but is also debated for his handling of sex-abuse scandals. A small parish church in Bahia, Brazil, was renamed in his honour: Our Lady of Alagados and St. John Paul II.
Starting Saturday night, nearly 20,000 Costa Ricans crowded into the capital of San Jose’s national stadium for a vigil and to watch the ceremony broadcast early Sunday from the Vatican onto giant screens.
Many faithful carried photographs of John Paul, and vendors outside the stadium hawked tiny figurines of the late pontiff who visited Costa Rica in 1983.
A young Catholic named Carlos Cruz expressed “immense happiness that God has chosen this very beautiful country to carry out a miracle, something unexplainable.”
In Mexico City, the first city John Paul visited as the “travelling pope” in 1979, and where he returned on four more occasions, about 1,500 people kept vigil at the capital’s huge downtown cathedral.
Among them was 76-year-old Maria Elena Alba, who brought the prayers of others.
“I am sure they will be granted because the pope is quite miraculous,” she said. “I saw him four times and it was as if seeing God himself.”
More Mexican faithful prayed for the two new saints at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, dedicated to a dark-skinned version of the Virgin Mary who is considered the patroness of the Americas.
“He moved many hearts around the world,” Maria Ines Rivera said of John Paul.
During his final visit to Mexico in 2002, John Paul canonized Juan Diego as the first indigenous saint in the Americas. The Virgin of Guadalupe is said to have appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 on a hill where an Aztec goddess was worshipped.
The canonizations were also celebrated across Brazil, the country with the most Catholics in the world with 123 million members.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, where several hundred people packed the Imaculate Conception parish church for a midday Mass, 66-year-old retired teacher Alcina Palma said she was pleased with John Paul’s canonization because “sometimes it can take a long time to become a saint.” Jose de Anchieta, a Spanish Jesuit priest who was a missionary to Brazil in the second half of the 16th century, was venerated for centuries before he became a saint earlier this month.
In the northeastern city of Bahia, the Our Lady of Alagados parish church added St. John Paul to its name. The church was opened during a 1980 visit by the pontiff, who was adored in the region for visiting the city’s rough, impoverished slums both then and again in 1991.
A special afternoon Mass was being held outside the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, site of a statue of John Paul that commemorates the first-ever papal visit to the Caribbean island in 1998.
But not everyone supported sainthood for John Paul.
A collection of left-leaning Catholic groups called the Ecclesial Observatory of Mexico opposed John Paul’s canonization, saying he protected people like the Rev. Marcial Maciel. The Mexican priest who founded of the Legion of Christ religious order was later revealed to have sexually abused boys and maintained relationships with at least two women, fathering numerous children.
Maciel’s victims have accused John Paul and his top advisers of ignoring decades of credible abuse accusations, appreciating instead the orthodoxy of his priests and Maciel’s ability to bring in vocations and donations to the church.
The Ecclesial Observatory also lamented what it said was John Paul’s failure to denounce past dictatorships around Latin America.
Associated Press writers Javier Cordova in San Jose, Costa Rica, Adriana Gomez Licon in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana contributed to this report.