Millions of Catholics around the world are bracing for a once-in-a-lifetime experience this Sunday – four popes, two of them in the flesh, in one historic, ceremony: the double canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II.
After some speculation, retired Pope Benedict XVI is expected to attend the event, according to Msgr. Liberio Andreatta, head of the Vatican-related pilgrim agency, Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, as quoted by the National Catholic Reporter.
"Never before have there been two popes canonized and two popes living," he said at a news conference Wednesday in Rome. "You can imagine their emotions," he told the NCR online, referring to Popes Francis and Benedict.
The last time Benedict XVI was seen in public was February 22 of this year, when the Pope Emeritus attended a consistory at which Pope Francis created 19 new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Benedict’s presence at the ceremony marked the first time he had joined Pope Francis for a public liturgy.
Benedict, 87, made history on February 28, 2013, when he became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign in order to live the final stage of his life as "simply a pilgrim."
The double canonization is expected to be followed by millions through television, Internet and social media.
According to Italy’s Ministry of Interior, 19 heads of state, 24 ministers and 23 high officials have confirmed their attendance to the ceremony at St. Peter’s Square, among them the king and queen of Spain, Juan Carlos and Sofia, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski , and French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls. Representatives and delegations from Latin America include presidents Rafael Correa, from Ecuador, and Juan Orlando Hernández, from Honduras.
Nineteen giant screens are being installed throughout Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square, as well as in several key locations in the historic district, including the Roman Coliseum and the Piazza del Popolo. The ceremony will be translated into several languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and French, both live and on television.
Francis announced back in July that he would canonize the two popes together, after approving a second miracle to John Paul II, who led the church from 1978-2005.
The first reported miracle credited to John Paul II occurred in 2005, when a French nun recovered from Parkinson's disease after her order prayed on her behalf and she wrote down the Polish pope's name on a piece of paper.
A second certified miracle occurred in May 2011, on the day of the pope's beatification, when he allegedly cured a Costa Rican woman with an inoperable brain aneurysm.
John Paul II is set to be the fastest canonizing in modern history, beating out Josemaria Escriva, the Spanish priest who founded Opus Dei and was canonized 27 years after his death.
Pope John XXIII, on the other hand, died in 1963 and had to wait 51 years for his sainthood.