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Pope Francis Canonization of Two Popes Promises to be Epic

ROME, Italy -- This Sunday the Catholic Church will elevate two popes to sainthood in a historic canonization ceremony in Vatican Square.

In Catholic circles, it is the main event of 2014, and at this point, it might be easier to make your own case for sainthood than to procure a spot in the VIP section. A Vatican official told NBC News this morning that a Polish nun in his office has been bringing him tea every day; what he thought was a kind gesture turned out to be an effort to soften him up before trying to get a ticket for her Mother Superior, he said.

"Let's play two!" NBC News Vatican analyst George Weigel said, quoting the indefatigable Ernie Banks (especially appropriate given the anniversary of Wrigley Field).

It promises to be an epic event -- from a place that does "epic" particularly well.

Two Popes to Become Saints 2:27

Why such interest? Pope Francis, no slouch in the popularity department, is elevating to sainthood two of the most important, and in some ways controversial, pontiffs of the 20th century. It's a grand and calculated gesture -- an effort to bring together different factions in the church, united in what Pope Francis calls the joy of the Gospel.

Pope John XXIII, in calling the Second Vatican Council, brought the church into the modern era, and Pope John Paul II was, as author Jon Meacham told us upon his death, "one of the four great lions of the 20th century," a man who faced down communism and catapulted the papacy into a position of power on the world stage.

While both were beloved, Sunday's events are not without naysayers. Conservative Catholics take a dim view of some of the fallout from Vatican II, and the scourge of the clerical sexual abuse scandal tarnishes John Paul II's legacy. Controversy aside, Rome is revving up to host a massive influx of up to 1 million people, something this city is well-used to. Thousands and thousands will come from Poland alone, on planes, trains, automobiles and, in one case, horseback.

Mayor Ignazio Marino, while telling NBC News about the preparations the city has made, revealed that he speaks with Pope Francis regularly and that he told the mayor shortly after his election last July, "I am going to keep you on your toes." It's a safe bet that this weekend the mayor is dancing as fast as he can.