Pope beatifies John Paul II before 1.5M faithful

VATICAN CITY - (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI beatified Pope John Paul II before 1.5 million faithful in St. Peter's Square and surrounding streets Sunday, moving the beloved former pontiff one step closer to possible sainthood in one of the largest turnouts ever for a Vatican Mass.

The crowd in Rome and in capitals around the world erupted in cheers, tears and applause as an enormous photo of a young, smiling John Paul was unveiled over the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica and a choir launched into hymn long associated with the Polish-born pope.

Beatification is the first major milestone on the path to possible sainthood, one of the Catholic Church's highest honors. A second miracle attributed to John Paul's intercession is needed for him to be canonized.

Spain's Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia, wearing a black lace "mantilla," mingled with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Poland's historic Solidarity leader and former President Lech Walesa and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who sidestepped an EU travel ban to attend.

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