Pope John Paul II to Become a Saint

The Roman Catholic Church announced its decision to canonize Pope John Paul II on Friday, July 5. John Paul II was head of the Catholic Church from 1978 to his death in 2005, and had been put on the fast track to sainthood by Pope Benedict XVI, who dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the beatification process to begin weeks after his death. Now, just eight years after his death, John Paul will be made a saint.

According to Catholics, a saint is someone who lived a holy life and who's already in heaven. There are three requirements for becoming a saint. First, the title "venerable" is given by the pope to someone judged to have exhibited heroic virtues. Second, a miracle must be attributed to the deceased person's intervention, allowing beatification. Beatification is the penultimate step in the sainthood process; it means the person can be referred to as "blessed," and that one miracle has been confirmed in his name. Another miracle is required for canonization, the formal act of declaring someone a saint.

Usually the miracles are healings, which must be instantaneous, permanent, and complete, as well as scientifically inexplicable. A team of doctors examines these healings to verify their legitimacy. Catholics see the miracle as God's seal of approval, a way of verifying that the saint really is in heaven.

John Paul's first miracle involved Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, a nun whose order, Little Sisters of Catholic Maternity Wards, prayed to the pope after he died. Sister Marie-Simon claimed she was cured of Parkinson's disease, an ailment that also afflicted John Paul. After writing the pope's name on a piece of paper one night, she reportedly awoke the next morning cured.

The second miracle apparently occurred in Costa Rica, where a woman said she recovered from a severe brain injury thanks to the intervention of John Paul.

While his pontificate had quite a few successes, John Paul II has been met with criticism on many occasions, and his impending sainthood is not unanimously accepted. He might have played a key role in bringing down Communism and improving the Church's ties with Judaism and Islam, but his poor handling of the clerical sex abuse scandals cannot be dismissed. John Paul's unwavering support for Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Mexican priest and morphine addict who ran the Legion of Christ movement, generated further concerns.

Moreover, it has been suggested that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre did not have Parkinson's disease, and that she might have been suffering from some other ailment. She also suffered a relapse, which the Episcopal Conference of France dismissed as nothing more than a rumor. To most skeptics, these healings are just coincidences or exaggerations with nothing remotely miraculous about them.

While a fixed date hasn't been set, the Church can be expected to add "St. John Paul II" to its list before the end of this year.