The late Pope John Paul II moved a big step closer to Roman Catholic sainthood on Friday when his successor approved a decree attributing a miracle to him and announced that he will be beatified in May.
Pope John Paul II has been fast-tracked to sainthood
Pope John Paul II is to be beatified on May 1 - a key step on the path to sainthood - the Vatican announced Friday after his successor Benedict XVI signed an official decree.
"Personally, I'm overwhelmed by it, even though I’ve known him almost since my youth," said archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the late pope's former personal secretary and one of his closest friends for 40 years.
The process of beatification is usually lengthy, but calls for John Paul to be canonized came immediately after his death in April 2005 at the Vatican, at the age of 84.
Mourners at his funeral in Saint Peter's Square shouted "Santo subito!" (Saint immediately) - a homage to the popular Polish-born pontiff whose 26-year reign remains the second-longest in history.
Church officials have said the miracle attributed to the intercession of John Paul with God concerned Sister Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, a 49-year-old French nun diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, from which the pope himself had suffered.
She said her illness inexplicably disappeared two months after his death when she and her fellow nuns prayed to him.
The green light
Calls for Pope John Paul II's sainthood began at his funeral
Church-appointed doctors concluded that there was no medical explanation for the healing of the nun, although last year there were some doubts about the validity of the miracle.
This week, the Vatican's Congregation of the Causes for Saints recognized a miracle attributed to him, a key requirement for sainthood.
A further miracle occurring after the beatification ceremony, which confers the title "Blessed" on John Paul, must be approved before he can be canonized, or made a saint.
Like his funeral, John Paul II's beatification ceremony is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of onlookers and his coffin will be moved beforehand from its present location in the Vatican crypts and placed under an altar in a chapel in St Peter's Basilica so more people can pay homage.
The period between his death and beatification is one of the shortest on record in Church history.
But not everyone was happy about the announcement. Victims of sexual abuse by priests said the late pope failed to recognize the extent of the problem.
SNAP, a U.S.-based group of people abused by priests when they were children, criticized "a hasty drive to confer sainthood on the pontiff under whose reign most of the widely documented clergy sex crimes and cover-ups took place."
Author: Natalia Dannenberg (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner