KRAKOW, Poland - Tens of thousands of Polish Catholics celebrated their country's newest saint -- John Paul II -- by converging on the southern city where he served as cardinal-archbishop before becoming pope.

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VATICAN CITY - From the moment Pope Francis said, "We declare and define Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II be saints" and "they are to be venerated as such by the whole church," their October feast days automatically could be celebrated at Masses around the world.

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VATICAN CITY - Blessed John XXIII struggled to shake off many formalities that came with the papacy and often conspired with his valet to sneak out of the Vatican.

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VATICAN CITY - Blessed John Paul II is remembered as was one of the most forceful moral leaders of the modern age.

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VATICAN CITY - The first anniversary of Pope Francis’ election brought stories highlighting the unique style he has brought to the papacy. But maybe people have forgotten how much of what passes today for papal “tradition” was actually an innovation of Pope John Paul II.

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VATICAN CITY - Blessed John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council in the conviction that it was necessary for the Catholic Church, yet without pre-conceived ideas of what it would accomplish, said Vatican II participants who recalled the event half a century later.

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Saints are not saints because they fit some precast mould of perfection. The Church has proclaimed at least 20,000 saints over its two millennia and no two of them are the same.

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VATICAN CITY - Just days before Pope Francis was set to canonize two of his predecessors, he expressed his hopes the two soon-to-be saints would continue to inspire the whole church in its mission.

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VATICAN CITY - People said Floribeth Mora Diaz was crazy to think Blessed John Paul II interceded with God to heal her brain aneurysm, but if so, "then it is a blessed craziness, because I'm healthy," she told reporters at the Vatican.

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VATICAN CITY - "They call me Holy Father and that is what I must be," the future St. John XXIII wrote in his diary.

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VATICAN CITY - After decades of resentment and horror over the abuse of indigenous children, the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha marked a further step toward the reconciliation of the indigenous communities and the Catholic Church.

Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada, told Canadian church and government officials the canonization "makes it possible, very much possible, to bring our community -- the First Nations -- very much closer with the Catholic Church. There was a rupture for too long."

Fontaine headed a 2009 Canadian aboriginal delegation to the Vatican, which received a formal apology from the church for the treatment of native children in Canadian residential schools.

An estimated 100,000 aboriginal children passed through the schools, which were abolished in the 1990s. They were established and paid for by the Canadian government, but were administered by various church organizations, including Roman Catholic dioceses and religious orders. The schools became known for widespread physical and sexual abuse of children and have been blamed for contributing to the disappearance of native languages and cultures.

Fontaine spoke at a reception after the canonization and Mass Oct. 21, addressing Canadian bishops, other First Nations leaders and a government delegation led by Andrew Scheer, speaker of the House of Commons.

Anne Leahy, Canadian ambassador to the Holy See, said the government delegation was a sign of just how much importance the government gave the canonization of St. Kateri, the first aboriginal saint from North America.

When Fontaine led the native delegation to the Vatican in 2009, he said, "we were blessed with a private audience with His Holiness (Pope Benedict XVI)," who gave the First Nations "great comfort. And now, here we are, three years later and we have another blessing: being witness to another very significant event," the official recognition of St. Kateri.

Her canonization, he said, "makes it possible to share our daughter with the universal church."

"If you link the two events" -- the 2009 meeting and the canonization -- "it is all about imparting reconciliation," Fontaine said.

The canonization, he said, "is an opportunity for us to say, 'We accept your apology, we forgive, and so now let us begin taking the important steps of healing and reconciliation."

Sylvain Chicoine, a member of the Canadian Parliament representing Chateauguay-Saint-Constant, Quebec, which includes the mission where Kateri died in 1680, told Catholic News Service the canonization is especially important in his region.

"They used to tell stories of Kateri in our schools, until about 30 years ago," he said. "Now the young will know her, too."

"Kateri made a bridge between the Europeans and the First Nations, and she can be an example today to rebuild bridges between our communities," which are still experiencing lingering tensions over land-use disputes from the 1990s, Chicoine said. "There is still work to do in repairing the relationship."

Elaine Johnson, a nurse and member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in northeastern Saskatchewan, said she came to Rome for the celebration because St. Kateri "is our first First Nations saint. We need to empower ourselves and she's our role model for being prayerful, humble and giving. As a First Nations person, I just wanted to be present."

"We as First Nations people would not look at her as having adopted European culture. Christianity does not take away our identity," she said. "I was born and raised a First Nations person and a Catholic, which empowers you because your ultimate goal is heaven. The church strengthens you."

Tobasonakwut Kinew, an Ojibway elder and university lecturer, came from Winnipeg for the canonization. A survivor of abuse at a residential school, he was part of the First Nations delegation that met the pope in 2009.

He told CNS, "I was sitting in a hotel in Thunder Bay (Ontario) in 1970 and was asking, praying, begging to be freed from alcohol and that's the last time I took a drink. I grew up praying to Kateri, and I used to think prayers were never answered, but here I am today."

Asked to write out his name for a reporter, Kinew did so, saying, "That's one thing I did learn at the residential school."

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VATICAN CITY - In a continuing effort to preserve the integrity of the Mass and highlight the meaning of a canonization, when Pope Benedict XVI declares seven new saints Oct. 21, the ceremony will look different than it has in the past.

Msgr. Guido Marini, master of papal liturgical ceremonies, said the change will mark another step in Pope Benedict's efforts to remove from the papal Mass elements that are not strictly part of the liturgy, in accordance with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

Earlier, the Pope stopped giving new cardinals their rings during Mass; and in June he started the practice of giving new archbishops a pallium — a woolen band around their necks — before the entrance antiphon of the Mass.

In a similar way, beginning Oct. 21, the canonization rite will take place before Mass begins.

"Canonization is basically a canonical act" through which the Pope exercises his ministry to teach and to legislate, Marini told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

"In effect, a canonization is a definitive sentence through which the supreme pontiff decrees that a servant of God, already listed among the blessed, is to be inscribed in the catalogue of saints and venerated in the universal church," the monsignor said.

"The authority exercised by the Pope in a canonization sentence will now be even more visible through the use of certain ritual elements," particularly through the Pope's triple invocation of God's help in making such an important decision, he said.

Marini said the distinction between the canonization rite and the celebration of the Mass is meant to respond to the Second Vatican Council's call for the "splendour of the noble simplicity" of the Mass to shine forth.

The seven women and men who will be proclaimed saints with the new ceremony are:

-- Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a native American who was born in upstate New York and died in Canada in 1680 at the age of 24.

-- Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai, who led a group of sisters from New York to the Hawaiian Islands in 1883 to establish a system of nursing care for leprosy patients.

-- Blessed Peter Calungsod, a lay catechist from the Philippines who was martyred April 2, 1672, in Guam.

-- Blessed Jacques Berthieu, a Jesuit who was born near Polminhac, France, and was martyred June 8, 1896, in Ambiatibe, Madagascar.

-- Blessed Giovanni Battista Piamarta, an Italian priest and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth for men and the Humble Servants of the Lord for women. He died in 1913.

-- Blessed Carmen Salles Barangueras, the Spanish founder of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. She died in 1911.

-- Blessed Anna Schaffer, a lay German woman who wanted to be a missionary, but could not because of a succession of physical accidents and diseases. She died in 1925.

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