TODAY   |  April 27, 2014

Vatican crowds celebrate sainthood for two popes

500,000 people packed St. Peters Square on Sunday for the historic canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John XXII at the Vatican. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports from Rome.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> we do want to get to today's top story. that is the elevation of popes john paul ii and john xxiii . the canonization ceremony made even more historic as pope francis and pope benedict celebrated mass together. the first time a retired pope and a current pope have ever done this in public. ann thompson is at the vatican this morning. good morning.

>> reporter: erica, it is still a mad house here. people don't seem to want to leave, and why not? many of these people spent the night on rome 's uncomfortable cobblestones just to try to get into st. peter's square, and those that did, well, they were the lucky few because this crowd stretched all the way down to the river. the vatican says 500,000 people witnessed the mass here and then another 300,000 watched it on big screen tvs, 17 of them placed around the city of rome . all of them seeing for the first time two popes canonized in the catholic church .

>> reporter: for an institution 2,000 years old, this was a first. two popes made saints before a crowd that spilled out on to the streets of rome . john xxiii who brought the church into the modern world by calling the second vatican council , and john paul ii who lifted up his native poland and helped bring down communism in eastern europe . two giants of the catholic church in the 20th century , lives, pope francis says, are still relevant in the 21st. pope francis chose to canonize the two popes together, another symbolic act of his big tent approach. each man championed by different factions of the church. john paul is lawded by conservativetives for his strict interpretation of doctrine. john was seen more pastor than pontiff. this was not a day for labels. and for those who a year ago feared pope benedict 's resignation would throw the church into turmoil, this morning's sight of two living popes celebrating their predecessors, a sign of unity in this ancient fate.

>> reporter: for those that stayed to the end, and that was just about everybody because it was tough to leave were awarded by a popemobile ride. he went down all the way down to the end. he got there, couldn't find a place to turn around, so he hung a right, and we're told that he got back to casa santa marta in time to have lunch.