John Paul II set to be saint within weeks

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The Independent Online

"Everything is possible, but I don't know if it would be opportune," said Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz. But, he added, the Cologne setting would be perfect because "no one loved young people like the pope and they loved him. It would be wonderful for a German pope to canonise a Polish pope in Cologne."

Speculation has been swirling about whether Pope Benedict XVI might beatify John Paul during the World Youth Day celebrations - placing the late pope on an even faster track to possible sainthood. Already, Benedict waived the five-year waiting period and allowed the beatification process to officially begin just three months after John Paul died on 2 April. The five-year wait was a reform of John Paul II's: previously the normal period before someone could be declared a saint was 50 years, later reduced to 10.

At present the case for his sainthood is being collected by a "postulator" whose task is to sift the evidence. He is apparently receiving hundreds of emails daily which talk of personal meetings with the late pope and ascribing potential miracles that occurred after prayer to him. Two proven miracles are required to become a saint. It used to be four.

There has also been speculation that John Paul II could be declared a martyr, thus removing the need altogether to ascribe verified miracles to him. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has been reported saying that it was up to theologians to decide if the 1981 attempt on the late pope's life and his long suffering before he died constituted martyrdom.

John Paul II was the most prolific creator of saints in the Vatican's history. He beatified 1,338 people, of whom 1,032 were martyrs. He elevated 482 people to sainthood, and 480 of these were deemed martyrs. Critics have described these figures as constituting "mass-production" of saints, not all of whom have been untainted by controversy.

Archbishop Dziwisz, John Paul's trusted private secretary, specified that he wanted John Paul canonised - not just beatified - during the Cologne visit. Asked if Benedict might declare him a martyr - which would spare the Vatican from having to find and confirm a miracle attributed to John Paul - the archbishop responded, "In any case, people want him to be a saint."

The cleric, who has recently been named Archbishop of Krakow, also con- firmed that he disregarded instructions in the late pope's will to burn all his personal papers. Archbishop Dziwisz said the material was "too important historically" to destroy and that he intended to make it public bit by bit.

The archbishop also said that Pope Benedict XVI will visit Poland next spring. "He has promised it."