Forty St. Louisans among 800,000 canonization pilgrims

VATICAN CITY - More than 800,000 people packed St. Peter's Square in Vatican City Sunday. That's where former popes John XXIII and John Paul II were declared saints.

Retired Pope Benedict joined Pope Francis. It was the first time a reigning and retired pope have celebrated Mass together in public in the 2,000-year history of the church.

A group of more than 40 St. Louisans were among the pilgrims. They say they wanted to witness history, but the trip was also a way to reconnect and renew their faith.

And Catholics here in St. Louis also celebrated Sunday's canonization.

"It's a chance for us to celebrate people in our faith tradition who have stood out and have done good in the world," Jeff Leonard said.

He feels sainthood is an honor long-deserved by both former popes.

"When you look back on John XXIII and Pope John Paul II they both in their own way, very different from each other, brought good things to the Catholic Church and the world in general," he said.

The Leonard family went to mass this morning at St. Francis Xavier College Church in midtown. And the church took part in a tradition that knew no borders. Across the world bells rang at Catholic churches in honor of the two newest saints.

Just down the street at the Cathedral Basilica, relics from John Paul II's 1999 visit to St. Louis were displayed during a special mass.

"He invited Catholics around the world and all people of goodwill to open wide the gate of their hearts to Christ," said Archbishop of St. Louis Robert Carlson.

The Leonards are raising their two sons in the Catholic Church.

"It's been a wonderful experience and it's great for them to learn about saints and to be a part of these historic days," Robin Leonard said.

And Jeff Leonard says the history of today can serve as a lesson to his children and Catholics around the world.

"We need to sit and think back on what did these two popes have to say that's relevant to our lives today and think about why we're making them saints," he said.


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