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Pope Already a Saint, Mourners Say

Although the pope isn't yet officially a saint, mourners around the world are already calling him one and want church officials to make it a reality as quickly as possible.

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On the fast track to sainthood?

A popular clamor for Pope John Paul II to be quickly canonized as a Catholic saint erupted in St. Peter's Square on Friday toward the end of the funeral mass for the pontiff.

The crowd chanted "santo, santo" over and again, briefly holding up the ceremony, and some people held up large banners demanding the quick canonization of a man who created more saints during his 26-year papacy than all his predecessors together.

The pilgrims are jumping the gun and they don't care.

It usually takes decades or longer to achieve sainthood, according to Catholic tradition. But people are impatient for Pope John Paul II to get on that illustrious list.

"I pray the Holy Spirit will illuminate the next pope and help him to make a saint of John Paul as soon as possible," said Liliana Rosetti, 47, a Roman housewife who waited for hours to see the pope's body told Reuters. "He deserves to be made a saint tomorrow for all he did."

Saints are those whom the Catholic church proclaims to have risen with Christ and are capable of interceding with God for those who call on their aid. It is the highest honor the church can bestow.

According to church rules, the first step in the long road to sainthood doesn't even start until five years after a candidate's death. That is because church leaders want time for emotions to cool and to collect evidence of sainthood.

Pope John Paul II did bend the rules himself, however. Following the death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he waived the five-year rule and allowed the process to begin in 1999, just two years after her death.

If Poland has its way, the rules will be bent for their national hero, too.

"This pope is on the road to sainthood -- our contact with him will be different but it is not finished," Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of the Polish Bishops' Conference told Reuters.

Trauer um Papst Johannes Paul II

Poles will press Rome for status

Prolific saint-maker

Pope John Paul II was a tireless promoter of good works: He beatified 1,338 people and canonized 482 saints, more than all his predecessors combined since the modern process of beatification began in the 16th century.

After the first step of "opening the cause," the would-be saint gets the title "Servant of God. Proof of holiness is then collected by a "postulator." Then a "relator" evaluates the data and makes a recommendation.

The case must then go to a special Vatican theological commission. And if it approves, the pope can be deemed someone with "heroic virtues" and given the title "venerable."

A miracle needed

The road to sainthood begins with the attribution of one miracle to the candidate - usually an unexplained medical cure because of his intercession - which if confirmed leads to beatification. It takes another miracle to become a saint.

Not to worry, said one Italian paper: "He has already performed a first miracle - all these people here for him."

An icon of the sick because of his own illnesses, John Paul II was sure to be invoked often in the prayers of the ill.

Papst Johannes Paul II ist tot

A Mexican teen, Heron Badillo, said this week that the late pope cured his leukemia after dozens of doctors had abandoned hope that he could be healed.

"Since that day in 1990, I've been convinced that it was a miracle. His holiness touched my face and kissed my forehead and head. I was four years old, and I was very sick, but after that, I was healed," Badillo, now 19, told AFP.

A nun in Colombia, meanwhile, has said the pontiff cured her of an illness that affected her balance.

An exemplary life

If some Vatican insiders get their way, the need for proven miracles may be scrapped.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa and former secretary of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said two years ago that what mattered was not whether candidates for sainthood had performed miracles, but whether they had displayed "heroic virtue" - led an exemplary life.

Few would say that John Paul II had not.

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