Pilgrims converge on Vatican for canonisation of popes

Pilgrims converge on Vatican for canonisation of popes

VATICAN CITY - More than a million Roman Catholic faithful are expected to converge on the Vatican Sunday to see Pope Francis and Benedict XVI confer sainthood on predecessors John Paul II and John XXIII.

Religious chants rang out among thousands of pilgrims who spent the night in sleeping bags and picnic chairs to be first in line for Sunday's ceremony honouring two of modern Catholicism's most influential figures.

Some faithful posed next to cardboard cut-outs of the future saints, while others prayed with rosary beads and one group of teenagers wore baseball caps reading "Karol" in honour of the late Polish pontiff Karol Wojtyla.

"We came to Rome out of love for John Paul II. Being here is a dream," said Elizavet Kendzha, a Polish pilgrim in a red poncho on Via della Conciliazione, the main avenue leading up to St Peter's Basilica.

"John Paul II gave the Polish people freedom!" the 54-year-old said, pointing to a giant portrait of John Paul II hanging from the basilica alongside one of John XXIII, remembered as "Good Pope John".

More than one million faithful are expected to attend what will be a unique event, with a mass presided by Pope Francis that he will co-celebrate with his 87-year-old predecessor Benedict XVI, making a rare public appearance.

The pope emeritus, in his papal white cassock, will be sitting alongside red-robed cardinals near the altar.

The Vatican said 98 foreign delegations to the event include former Polish president Lech Walesa, whose Solidarity movement backed by John Paul II helped topple communism in eastern Europe.

The kings of Belgium and Spain were also expected, as well as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe - despite a ban from entering the European Union, which does not apply in the sovereign Vatican state.

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