Pope Benedict XVI announced on Friday that he had started the process to beatify his predecessor John Paul II, dispensing with rules that require a five-year waiting period before the sainthood procedure can start.
Fans of the late Pope John Paul II already see him as a saint
"The cause for the beatification of John Paul II is open," the newly-elected pontiff said during a meeting with Roman clergymen at the Basilica of Saint John in Lateran.
John Paul II died April 2 aged 84, sparking widespread calls for him to be quickly declared a saint.
Benedict XVI announced his decision in a letter in Latin read out by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The pope's decision allows the congregation to override normal Roman Catholic Church rules, which decree that five years must pass after death before the question of sainthood is tackled, to permit cooler assessment of the subject's life.
"No lack of miracles"
Faithful pray after the death of Pope John Paul II was announced in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Saturday April 2, 2005. Pope John Paul II, the Polish pontiff who led the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter century and became history's most-traveled pope, has died at 84, the Vatican announced Saturday. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
But even top prelates have pushed for a speedy process. On Wednesday, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos said John Paul II should be beatified on May 18, what would have been his 85th birthday.
"There's no lack of miracles, he performed many while he was still alive," said Hoyos, the Vatican official in charge of the clergy worldwide.
To achieve beatification the Vatican has to ascertain that a
person was reponsible for a miracle before or after his death.
Benedict XVI, who is the only person who can decide if a person is beatified, served as John Paul II's close aide for 25 years before being elected to succeed him on April 19.
His decision on Friday will likely endear him to the legions of fans around the world who mourned the passing of John Paul II, and already view him as a saint.
Reaching out with diplomacy
The pope reached out to the international community in other ways this week, urging countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the Vatican to establish such ties.
Some of these countries "joined ceremonies marking the death of my predecessor and my election to the throne of Peter," he said in his first meeting with diplomats accredited by the Vatican since Roman Catholic cardinals elected him last month.
"I appreciated those gestures and today want to express my gratitude and greet the civil authorities of these countries and express my wish to see them represented at the Apostolic See as soon as possible," he added.
"I am also thinking of countries with which the Holy See does not have diplomatic relations yet," he said.
Benedict did not name any countries but Vatican experts said he was referring to China and Vietnam.
Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
Both countries sent messages to the Vatican after John Paul II's death on April 2 although they did not send envoys to his funeral, unlike Saudi Arabia.
Benedict, 78, said he "particularly appreciated messages from these countries, notably those with large Catholic communities.
"I would like to say how much these communities and the people to whom they belong are dear to me and ensure them that they are in my prayers."
German background plays a role
During his audience with the diplomatic corps Benedict XVI also urged the world to "overcome the temptation of clashes among cultures, ethnicities and different worlds".
"Altogether, joining our efforts, the Christian communities, state leaders, diplomats and all people of good will are called upon to create a peaceful society," the German-born pope said, speaking in French.
"To achieve this, all peoples have to draw from their spiritual and cultural heritage the best values they have to go forward without fear of others, accepting to share spiritual and material well-being for the benefit of all."
Children wave small flags as they celebrate in front of Joseph Ratzinger's birth place, seen in background, in Marktl, southern Bavaria, Germany
Recalling his experience as a youth in Nazi Germany, he said, "I come from a country where peace and brotherhood are dear to the hearts of all the inhabitants, particularly those who, like me, have known the war and the separation among brothers belonging to the same nation because of devastating and inhuman ideological reasons.
"You can therefore understand that that I am particularly sensitive to dialogue between all people to overcome all forms of conflict and tensions, and to make of our earth an earth of peace and brotherhood," he said.