John Paul II Moving Closer to Sainthood

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Pope John Paul II will move one step closer to beatification Monday, pending a Vatican announcement. Pope Benedict XVI has set his predecessor on a fast track to potential sainthood, a process that typically takes much longer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It was two years ago that Pope John II died. And today, he'll move one step closer to becoming a saint. During a special ceremony in Rome, documentation will be presented to support that. The call for the late pontiff to be made a saint quickly began at his funeral. It's a process that usually takes decades, sometimes centuries.

We go now to NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. Hello.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Hello there.

MONTAGNE: So why is the Vatican moving so quickly on this? Is it a public opinion, which the Vatican normally doesn't respond that well too?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, John Paul was perhaps the most popular pope of the 20th century. The extraordinary number of people from all over the world who poured into Rome after his death - there were three million in two days -surprised even the Vatican. And during the funeral, thousands of mourners carried the banners and shouted the words santo subito - sainthood now.

The Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini revealed the other day that at the time he handed a letter to Pope Benedict signed by all the cardinals urging a swift canonization. So the pressure on Pope Benedict to recognize the sanctity of his predecessor has been very strong for the Catholic Church, which at least in Europe is suffering a loss of credibility, it could be a spiritually uplifting move.

It would also show that the Vatican hierarchy is responsive to popular opinion despite the lengthy sainthood process. Usually, there's a five-year waiting period after a person's death before he or she can be considered a candidate. First, for beatification, which requires a miracle. And then for canonization or sainthood, which requires a proof of the second miracle.

But John Paul II waived the five-year rule for Mother Theresa, and Pope Benedict gave the green light for John Paul only weeks after his death.

MONTAGNE: Well, the miracle that would move this along may have come just late - well, may have arrived just late last week. A French nun says her Parkinson's disease disappeared after she prayed to Pope John Paul. Is this - will this, is this what they're talking about today?

POGGIOLI: Well, at her press conference, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre described her unexpected recovery from the same disease that the late pope had. She said she and her fellow nuns prayed to John Paul, and she linked her recovery to him, but she stopped short of calling it a miracle, saying: that's the Vatican's responsibility.

The preliminary investigation took place in Rome and in Krakow, Poland, and it included testimony of more than a hundred people on the pope's good works. There were also reports of other possible miraculous cures. Today, the investigation process will be declared over and all the documentation that's been gathered will go to the special department for saints causes at the Vatican. A special committee of experts including scientists will be formed to determine if the nun's recovery has no medical explanation. And only after that will a group of cardinals declare whether or not John Paul performed a miracle from beyond the grave.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, John Paul's legacy also includes a very large number of saints and blessed. What is the relevance of that?

POGGIOLI: Well, he made nearly 500 saints and more than a thousand blessed. Not only was that - not only that was a record number; it was more than all his predecessors combined. The saints and blessed were people from all over the world, and many of them had died only in the last 50 or so years. And during his many trips abroad, he often performed beatification and canonization ceremonies.

The idea was it would be easier for Catholics to identify with the lives of people from their historical period, from their own countries and cultures, rather than unknown people from past centuries.

MONTAGNE: Sylvia, thanks.

POGGIOLI: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli speaking from Rome where today Pope John Paul II is a step closer to sainthood.

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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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