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TODAY   |  April 25, 2014

Pope John Paul II to be canonized amid controversy

The Catholic Church is set to declare Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII as saints in a historic Vatican ceremony, but some are questioning whether the church is moving too fast. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> it is an important weekend for the world's one billion catholics . pope john paul ii will be made a saint in an historic event at the vatican . but it's not without controversy. anne thompson is at the vatican this morning. anne, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, natalie. at capacity, st. peter's square behind me can hold 80,000 people. but officials are expecting ten times that number to come here and witness history, because on sunday, the catholic church for the first time will canonize two popes together. all roads lead to rome for the world's catholics . the script from chicago joining one million pilgrims to see them become saints. pope john opened the streets to the world in 1962 , convening the second vatican council that modernized this ancient faith. he led the church for just five years. john paul ii served for 26, a major figure on the world stage, the pope from poland helped bring down communism. he was a charismatic leader with a more conservative approach to catholic doctrine. at his funeral in 2005 , millions chanted sainthood now. drowning out dissent.

>> voices of women, voices of sex abuse victims, voices of the more progressive folks in the church who felt they had gotten stomped on during the 26, almost 27 years of john paul ii 's papacy.

>> reporter: his failure to respond to the sex abuse crisis has some saying john paul should not be made a saint. cardinal donald worl of washington, d.c. says saint hood does not mean perfection.

>> it's a declaration that the person is a virtuous and holy person.

>> reporter: the historic ceremony will be broadcast in 3-d and followed on social media . it even has its own twitter handle. but for this group of catholics from brooklyn, there is nothing like being here.

>> we are the only people who could bring people together, one bread, one body, one lord of all. that's us.

>> reporter: now, they will not only see two popes canonized, but they will also see two living popes. pope francis will preside over the mass. pope emeritus benedict is expected to attend. it will kind of be like a catholic all-star game. matt?

>> it's like a double-header.

>> anne thompson , thank you.

>> that's one way to put it. it's been a remarkable week when you consider that the vatican , last sunday was easter sunday, so obviously a big event for catholics . and now thousands and thousands expected to gather over this weekend.

>> this is a big deal