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He flew around the world as history’s most traveled pope. On Sunday, the world came to him.

In the fastest beatification in modern times, the late Pope John Paul II moved a major step closer to sainthood as Pope Benedict XVI pronounced him “Blessed,” paying tribute to him for showing “the strength of a titan” in defending Christianity.

John Paul was beatified in front of a cheering crowd of over a million faithful, which packed St. Peter’s Square and surrounding streets, the largest crowd in Rome since his funeral six years ago, police said.

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.

The Vatican’s official daily described the grand ceremony—and the weekend of prayers that Benedict called “a feast of faith”—an “extraordinary event without precedent in the last 1,000 years of the Church’s history.”

“From now on, Pope John Paul shall be called ‘Blessed,’” Pope Benedict, wearing resplendent white and gold robes, solemnly proclaimed in Latin, establishing that his predecessor’s feast day would be Oct. 22, the day of the inauguration of John Paul’s history-making pontificate in 1978.