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As wedding nears, London awaits spotlight on the royals

LONDON — As last-minute preparations drew to a close, London braced Friday for a royal wedding that promises to be one of the largest and most widely watched events here in recent memory.

The police expect that hundreds of thousands will throng the city’s streets for the morning wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, craning for a glimpse of the royal family and the 1,900 other dignitaries gathering at Westminster Abbey. The crowds themselves will be watched by 5,000 police officers, according to the Metropolitan force, and an estimated 8,500 journalists and support staff from around the world are also present.

Hundreds of millions more worldwide are expected to watch on television, and dozens of temporary studios, filled with presenters speaking as many languages, have been built against the backdrop of a floodlit Buckingham Palace.

And Britain’s National Grid, the company that provides the nation’s electricity infrastructure, has estimated that 400,000 kettles will be boiled in households here after the royal couple exchange their vows, as the domestic television audience celebrates with cups of tea.

Westminster Abbey, the ancient white church overlooked by the Houses of Parliament, has been transformed by four tons of foliage, including eight 20-foot-high English field maple trees. A final wedding rehearsal took place there Thursday morning.

—Ravi Somaiya, The New York Times

John Paul’s sainthood, like his papacy, proves polarizing

VATICAN CITY — Starting Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI will preside over the biggest spectacle since his own installation in 2005: a beatification Mass that will move his adored predecessor one step closer to sainthood.

The beatification is widely seen as a way not just to honor Pope John Paul II but also to energize the Roman Catholic Church after a rough patch. Yet, like John Paul’s 26-year papacy itself, it has already become intensely polarizing.

For one thing, Benedict waived the traditional five-year wait and began the process just weeks after John Paul’s death, and critics across the Catholic spectrum have questioned the haste. Others say the vast sex abuse crisis that came to light under John Paul is grounds against sainthood. On Saturday, at least one victims’ group is planning a worldwide protest.

Defenders, however, say the beatification is simply the formal seal of approval for a wildly popular pope who helped bring down Communism and whom many Catholics already consider a saint. The festivities are expected to draw hundreds of thousands to Rome, the biggest crowds since 2005, when cries of “Santo subito!” or “Sainthood now,” erupted at John Paul’s funeral Mass.

—Rachel Donadio, The New York Times