LIANE HANSEN, Host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
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HANSEN: At the Vatican today, Pope Benedict XVI focused his Easter message on the many conflicts and natural disasters that have caused suffering and destruction throughout the world. The Pope's Easter mass was the culmination of Holy Week. but the Vatican will still be busy in the coming days, preparing for next week's beatification of Pope John Paul II. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is on the line from Rome. Good morning, Sylvia.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Good morning, Liane.
HANSEN: Elaborate on the Pope's message this year.
POGGIOLI: And as a backdrop to the ceremony, St. Peter's Square was really resplendent with magnificent displays of brightly-colored spring flowers - peach blossoms, azaleas and many others.
HANSEN: And the week goes on, the Pope will beatify his predecessor John Paul II next week. How is Rome getting ready for that event?
POGGIOLI: Well, it's expected to be the biggest event since John Paul's funeral six years ago. The Vatican is expecting perhaps as many as a million pilgrims. Posters with the smiling face of the Polish-born pope are everywhere - on walls and on buses - and there are hundreds of gadgets and souvenirs on sale. Security, of course, will be very high but the mood is already very festive.
HANSEN: John Paul II was one of the longest serving popes in history. What message is being sent about his beatification?
POGGIOLI: He also championed ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and he opened up channels of cooperation with other religions, including Islam. He had a particular feeling for the young, who flocked to his masses as if they were rock concerts, and he made history by formally apologizing for the sins of Catholicism over the centuries.
HANSEN: But, Sylvia, aren't there questions being raised over the unprecedented speed of John Paul's beatification process?
POGGIOLI: Even more controversial was the late pope's benevolent attitude toward the Order of the Legionaries of Christ. The founder, the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, was accused of sex abuse by many young men but he continued to enjoy John Paul's favor. The pope saw the wealthy religious order as a model of orthodoxy. Many Vatican watchers say this was John Paul's greatest failure.
HANSEN: And finally and briefly, Sylvia, if there are these unresolved issues about John Paul II's papacy, why did Benedict speed up the beatification?
POGGIOLI: Well, you know, with so many Catholics abandoning the church, especially in Europe, the Vatican hopes this beatification will restore luster to this church and bring back the faithful.
HANSEN: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. Thank you, Sylvia. Happy Easter.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Liane. Happy Easter to you too.
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