Pope John Paul II. Picture: REUTERS
Pope John Paul II. Picture: REUTERS

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II, the globe-trotting pontiff who led the Catholic Church for nearly 27 years, and Pope John XXIII, who called the reforming Second Vatican Council, will be declared saints, the Vatican said on Friday.

The Vatican said Pope Francis had approved a second miracle attributed to John Paul, a Pole who was elected in 1978 as the first non-Italian pope in 450 years and died in 2005. His progression to sainthood is the fastest in modern times.

The Vatican also said Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council — which enacted sweeping reforms to modernise the Church — would be made a saint even though he has, since his death, been credited with only one miracle.

The canonisation ceremonies, which are likely to bring hundreds of thousands to people to Rome, are expected this year.

John Paul had already been credited with asking God to cure a French nun of Parkinson’s disease, the same malady he had, before he was beatified in 2011.

Two confirmed miracles are usually required under Vatican rules for the declaration of a saint.

The second miracle attributed to his intercession is the inexplicable curing of a Costa Rican woman who prayed to him for help with her medical condition on the day of his beatification.

In the case of Pope John XXIII, who was known as the "good pope", Francis waived the customary rules requiring a second miracle after beatification, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. John XXIII was beatified in 2000.

Francis, who has tried to instill a spirit of simplicity and reform in the Church since his election in March, is known to have great admiration for the reforming Pope John, who was born of peasant stock in northern Italy.

John Paul went down in history as the "globe-trotting pope", visiting every inhabited continent in more than 100 trips outside Italy.

Last days watched by world

His struggle with ill health was watched by millions around the world on television towards the end of his life.

He was also credited with being instrumental in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 because of his steadfast defence of the Solidarity trade union in his native Poland.

After martial law was declared in Poland in 1981, he is believed to have told then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev that if Russia invaded Poland, he would return home.

John Paul was nearly killed by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot him in St Peter’s Square on May 13 1981. Two trials failed to prove Italian magistrates’ accusations that the Bulgarian secret services had carried out the plot with Agca on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Millions of people attended his funeral in April 2005, and many cried "Santo Subito" or "Make him a saint immediately".

His successor, Benedict, waived a Church rule that normally requires a five-year waiting period before the preliminaries to sainthood can even begin.

John Paul is respected by Jews because of his 1986 visit to Rome’s synagogue, the first by a pope to a Jewish temple.

He is already considered a saint by millions of his countrymen in Poland, having supported their bid for freedom on the world stage for 11 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

"I am so happy and hardly can wait. John Paul II was one of a kind," said Ewa Jezierska, 72, a Polish saleswoman in Warsaw.

Liberals in the Church say John Paul was too harsh with theological dissenters who wanted to help the poor, particularly in Latin America. Others say he should be held ultimately responsible for sexual abuse scandals because they occurred or came to light when he was in charge.

John Paul also drew criticism for supporting the late Father Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of the Legionaries of Christ religious order, defending him despite charges of sexual abuse that later turned out to be true.

John XXIII has for decades been venerated by Italians who recall his kind gestures. While he was pope for less than five years, his short pontificate coincided with the post-Second World War "economic miracle" that transformed Italy from a devastated agricultural backwater to an international economic power.

Reuters