Eighty-eight pilgrims from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh were in the crowd for the historic canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II Sunday in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
The pilgrims, led by Bishop David Zubik, joined the more than 800,000 on hand to watch current Pope Francis present issue the formal proclamation of sainthood.
“For [our pilgrims] it was a matter to be there for the history of it,” Zubik said. “I think that’s probably true for all the people who were in the square.”
Sunday’s ceremony marked the first time in the history of the Catholic Church that two popes were canonized at once, and the first time two popes were present. Pope Benedict XVI, who stepped down from the post last year, was also in attendance.
The canonization was also significant because plenty of people in the crowd were alive for John Paul’s entire reign from 1978 until his death in 2005. Some were even alive to follow Pope John, who died in 1963.
“Normally in the past, one would ever have that experience at being at a canonization or hearing about a canonization of somebody who lived in our lifetimes,” Zubik said. “The span was usually at least 100 years before a person died that they could be canonized.”
Zubik and the pilgrims left Pittsburgh Friday afternoon. The group will tour the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and the basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls.
Today is a free day for the pilgrims, besides Zubik, who will be spending an hour with each of the seven seminarians studying in Rome before taking them to dinner as a group.
But he will always remember yesterday.
“To be there at St. Peters’ Square yesterday with nearly a million people there, I was very blessed to be able to be up close to where the Pope was,” Zubik said.
The pilgrims will return to Pittsburgh on the evening of May 1.