As Pope Francis declared former popes John Paul II and John XXIII saints Sunday, thousands of miles away, a celebration Mass was going on at John Paul II Catholic School in Okatie.
About 250 people attended the special Mass on the school's front lawn led by Monsignor Ronald Cellini, president of the Catholic school and pastor at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Bluffton.
There was standing room only for the outdoor event. People held umbrellas throughout to cool themselves off in the 80-degree heat.
Members of area Catholic churches were present — including St. Gregory the Great, St. Francis By the Sea, Holy Family, St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Beaufort and St. Anthony Parish in Ridgeland — as well as people from other denominations.
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Cellini said the Catholic Church is celebrating the life and legacy of John Paul II through his canonization.
"Canonization means that John Paul II is now sort of an official hero in the church," Cellini said. "The canonization of John Paul II means the church affirms that he really is in heaven, that he is a hero worth emulating, that he should be honored and respected, and more importantly, that what he taught would give us direction."
Sister Pam Smith, principal at John Paul II Catholic School, said the school aims to follow the example its namesake set in his spiritual, personal and academic life. John Paul II, who died in 2005, was a writer, poet and actor, excelled in sports, and was instrumental in hiding and helping Jews during the Nazi era.
"He kind of represented an all-around life of spirituality, intellectual excellency, athletics, socialization and so on," Smith said. "The evidence of his magnificent life is really an example of following the life of Christ."
Smith said the school will still legally be named John Paul II Catholic, but will identify the pope as St. John Paul II.
Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.
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