In news that is not surprising and long awaited, former pope and the now eight years deceased John Paul II will soon achieve the status of sainthood. Joining the elite but surprisingly large group of saints (some estimate there are over 10 000 saints although it is impossible to be sure because of lack of record keeping in past times) is not only John Paul II but also former Pope John XXIII. The process of becoming a saint is both lengthy and thorough, with the current pope, Francis, overseeing the progressions with ultimate power.
In order for the Catholic Church to even consider recognizing a deceased person as a saint in what is dubbed as the ‘canonization’ process, a few criteria must first be met. Before describing this process, however, a few things need to be clarified. It is not the Pope or the Church itself that decides who is or is not a saint, but it is instead their job to try and decipher whether that person is worthy of sainthood, as Catholics believe that it is God who decides who has achieved sainthood upon that person’s entrance into heaven.
The first step of the process is an examination of the deceased’s life. This first step almost always does not begin until five years after the person’s death, but in cases such as John Paul II’s or Mother Theresa’s, this waiting period can be waived by the current pope because the person in question lived a life so extraordinarily ‘holy.’ The examination of the person’s life is conducted by Vatican officials and if they are deemed ‘acceptable’, as in they lived a life that could be considered saint-worthy, then this person is deemed a ‘Servant of God’ and the official canonization process begins. Further investigation is carried out to determine if the person can be considered ‘Venerable’ or having lived a heroic life in which he or she worked to improve their own spirituality consistently in ways the Catholic Church believes would be approved by God. In cases such as John Paul II’s, these first two steps would have been mere formalities, yet the next two stages are what usually provides real hindrances in obtaining sainthood.
The next two steps are each based upon the achievement of a ‘miracle’ by the deceased. The first step of the final two is called ‘beatification’, in which the current pope approves whether potential miracles achieved by the deceased, either in life or afterwards, can be accredited to the deceased. The first of John Paul II’s miracles was, reportedly, inexplicably curing a French nun of Parkinson’s disease after she prayed to him in 2007. Her symptoms were greatly alleviated for several years yet, according to doctors, her disease has begun to show symptoms again. Despite this, this miracle was also confirmed by the pope. After having been ‘beatified’, John Paul II would then have been considered ‘blessed’ by the Church, leaving one final step before achieving sainthood.
This final step requires confirmation of a final miracle to achieve sainthood. In John Paul II’s case, he was credited with curing a Costa Rican woman of a brain aneurysm in 2011 in what doctors call an ‘inexplicable’ and ‘unseen’ recovery. The Costa Rican woman states that a picture of the former pope ‘spoke’ to her after her diagnosis and after waking up the next day, her symptoms had disappeared and after a return trip to the hospital, it was confirmed that her aneurysm was gone. The confirmation of this miracle by the current pope opens the door for John Paul II to finally attain sainthood, in a process that was long awaited by most Catholics for one of the most popular popes in the Church’s history.