Around 1.5 million pilgrims flooded Rome to watch Pope John Paul II move a step closer to sainthood in one of the largest Vatican Masses in history - an outpouring of adoration for a beloved and historic figure after years marred by church scandal.
The turnout for Sunday's beatification far exceeded even the most optimistic expectation of one million people, the number Rome city chiefs predicted.
For Catholics filling St Peter's Square and its surrounding streets, and for those watching around the world the beatification was a welcome hearkening back to the days when the Pope was almost universally beloved.
"He was like a king to us, like a father," Marynka Ulaszewska, 28, from Ciechocinek, Poland, said, weeping. "I hope these emotions will remain with us for a long time."
Pope Benedict XVI praised John Paul for turning back the seemingly "irreversible" tide of communism with faith, courage and "the strength of a titan, a strength which came to him from God".
John Paul is universally credited with helping bring down communism in his native Poland with support for the Solidarity movement, accelerating the fall of the Iron Curtain.
"He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress," Benedict said. "He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope."
But John Paul's beatification, the fastest in modern times, has triggered a new wave of anger from sex abuse victims because much of the criminality occurred during his 27-year watch.
Critics also say John Paul's legacy is clouded by evidence of a dwindling faith - empty churches in Europe, too few priests in North and South America, priests who violate their celibacy requirement in places such as Africa and a general decline of Catholicism in former Christian strongholds.
John Paul's defenders argue that an entire generation of new priests owe their vocations to John Paul, and that millions of lay Catholics found their faith during the World Youth Days, which were a hallmark of his papacy.