Pope Francis Declares Popes John XXIII and John Paul II Saints

Pope Francis Declares Popes John XXIII and John Paul II Saints
Getty Images

Pope Francis made history on Sunday morning when he presided over the canonization of two former popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. 

The mass at St. Peter's Basilica was attended by an astonishing 800,000 people, including Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, who made a rare public appearance to attend the mass. It was the first time a current pope and a retired one celebrated mass together, and it was the first time two popes were canonized at the same time. In total, four popes were present in body and in spirit -- a historic event for many believers who flocked to Vatican City from across the world to celebrate the occassion. 

"We declare and define that Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be saints, and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church," Francis said during the ceremony. He lauded the two saints as "men of courage" who "lived through the tragic events of the 20th century, but were not overcome by them."

Pope Francis, who's often praised for his modern and unconventional approach to leading the Catholic Church, decided to canonize the two men at the same time to highlight the unity of the church. Pope John XXIII is typically remembered as a liberal, reforming figure while John Paul II is commemorated as a much more conservative pope. According to BBC News, Francis' decision to canonize the men at the same time underscores the importance of the Catholic Church's conflicting conservative and progressive wings.