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Pope Francis proclaimed his predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II saints in front of more than 500,000 pilgrims on Sunday, hailing both as courageous men who withstood the tragedies of the 20th century.

Cheers and applause rang out across St. Peter’s Square after the historic double papal canonization as many in the crowd fixed their gaze on huge tapestries of the two popes on the facade of the basilica behind Francis.

“We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church,” Francis said in his formal proclamation in Latin.

Relics of each man — a container of blood from John Paul II and skin from John XXIII — were placed near the altar.

The fact that the two being canonized is widely seen as representing contrasting faces of the Church has added to the significance of an event that Francis hopes will draw the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics closer together after a string of sex abuse and financial scandals.

The crowd stretched back along Via della Conciliazione, the broad, half-kilometer boulevard that starts at the Tiber River.

“These were two men of courage … and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy,” Francis said in his address.

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