VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis cleared Pope John Paul II for sainthood Friday, a little more than eight years after his death and faster than any other person in the modern era.
The Vatican said the healing of a Costa Rican woman has been approved as a miracle, one of the steps necessary for sainthood. Pope Benedict XVI cleared the way for the lightning-fast process during his papacy when he dispensed of the five-year waiting period after someone’s death before the beatification process can begin.
The development sets up a remarkable dual canonization along with John XXIII, who was pope from 1958 to 1963. John XXIII, a beloved populist with a strong connection to the faithful, is the pontiff most compared to Francis.
Francis pushed aside the rules requiring at least two confirmed miracles to make John XXIII a saint, something the pope is allowed to do if he believes the figure deserves to be made a saint based on his own merit, according to Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.The two will be officially named saints “within a year,” Lombardi added.
Until now, the fastest person to be named a saint in the modern era was Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, whom John Paul declared a saint in 2002 after the Spaniard died in 1975.
Vatican experts said sainthood declarations further establish Francis’ stamp on the papacy.
“This is just the latest example of Francis doing things his way,” said Alistair Sear, a church historian. “It’s clear the new pope follows his instincts, and many of the decisions he has made, such as this one, resonate.”
The miracle Francis approved Friday involved the curing of a Costa Rican woman suffering from a brain aneurysm who prayed to John Paul for help and was healed on May 1, 2011 — the day John Paul was beatified, according to Italian and Spanish media reports. John Paul’s first miracle — curing a French nun of Parkinson’s Disease — was confirmed three years ago as part of the process required for his beatification.
Benedict’s dismissal of the five-year waiting period before the start of the beatification period could have been in response to chants of “Santo Subito!” or “Sainthood Immediately!” that erupted throughout St. Peter’s Square during John Paul’s funeral. In the early days of the church, popes sometimes declared saints based on popular acclimation, but Benedict declined to do that, electing instead to clear the way for John Paul to be canonized in a remarkably short time by modern standards.
But some Italian media have criticized the church for moving so quickly to declare John Paul a saint, saying that the full ramifications of John Paul’s 27-year papacy, including many of the Vatican’s current problems including sex scandals and corruption, had their roots in his 1978 to 2005 papacy.
“These problems that started during John Paul’s papacy are a real concern. There is a kind of cult of popes, and each pope feels pressure to canonize his predecessors,” said Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent for the London Catholic newspaper The Tablet. “There are a lot of dark clouds associated with his long pontificate, and with time they would complicate things. From Francis’ perspective, this was probably an inevitable step, and so it was wise to get the distraction out of the way so he can focus on other things.”
The news of John Paul’s sainthood drew some enthusiastic responses in St. Peter’s Square on Friday.
“John Paul II was the holiest man I ever saw in all my life,” said Orlando Di Cosimo, a 61-year-old furniture restorer, who works near the Vatican.
Teresa Sitar, 35, a shopkeeper from John Paul’s native Poland who has been living in Italy for 12 years, said she waited in line for 16 hours at John Paul’s wake.
“He was a great man. I am so happy this has happened and so emotional I can’t even think of what to say,” she said.