As Pope, John Paul II has elevated more people to sainthood - nearly 500 - than all of his predecessors combined and raised double that number to the final state before sainthood. He sees saints as essential role models, especially for youth.
The Right Rev. Msgr. Robert Sarno of the Congregation for Saints says, "Saints then are those people who have followed Christ most closely and offer us kind of like signposts on the road of life, giving us indications of how we are to live, what we are to be."
One recent new saint was a 17th century monk credited with inventing cappuccino. But not all of the pope's new saints have been above controversy.
An Indian peasant, declared a saint in a colorful ceremony in Mexico that featured Aztec dances from a pagan era, may never have existed at all.
Padre Pio, a mystical Italian priest, had a history of checkered relations with the Vatican, but was hugely popular. And it is popular appeal that puts people on the road to sainthood.
Msgr. Sarno says, "It's actually the most democratic process in the church. A cause of canonization cannot be started form the top. It has to start from the bottom. In other words, the first question is, do the people think this person is holy?"
It used to take up to 30 years for an investigation to be completed. But changes made in 1983 to the complex process of assessing worthiness for sainthood made it easier and faster to decide who qualifies.
Under the new system, martyrs, those killed for the sake of the faith, no longer need to have a miracle attributed to them.
Officials in charge of the process stress that sainthood is neither a reward nor a political statement, but those who are obviously well-loved, like Mother Theresa, are being put on a "fast track," made eligible for beatification, the last step before sainthood within a few years of their deaths.
Msgr. Sarno notes, "Mother Theresa used to say that a saint is like a pencil in the hand of God. You don't concentrate on the pencil, but you look at the message, at what the message is that the pencil is writing."
John Paul II has a particular affinity for declaring women saints, perhaps in part because of what has been described as his almost mystical relationship with the Virgin Mary.
Those close to him say the Pope genuinely believes the hand of the Virgin Mary entered his body and deflected a bullet that should have been fatal when he was shot in a 1981 assassination attempt.
His last foreign trip was a clear sign of the Pope's determination to carry on elevating those whom the Church finds worthy.
In spite of obvious physical strain, he made the four-day journey in part to beatify a Slovakian nun and a priest martyred by the Communists in the 1950s.
As the pope slows, so too must the rate at which he creates saints. But the sheer number of people he has touched leads many to believe that one day he, too, could well become a special statistic proposed for the pantheon of those judged worthy and holy.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, says, "Whenever it happens, and maybe it won't happen for another 10 years, but whenever it happens, think that the cardinals will want a man who has the same vision, the same understanding of the church. The same understanding of the world as this Holiness has had."
Pope John Paul II has come out without ambiguity on many different issues, from human rights to the War in Iraq to the celibacy of priests.
Cardinal McCarrick notes the reason people are not so crazy about the pope's ideas is because they live in a world that does not accept absolutes. He says, "We're living in a world where it's, I'll love you till next Wednesday, and this man is saying, 'Love has to be absolute.' You'll have to put your life on the line. You have to decide. You can't bargain with the Lord. You have to be a 100 percent.
"That's the challenge. There's absolute truth. The Lord wants us to do this and he challenges us to do it. The world is saying, 'Oh, you know, you don't really want to do that. You want to become rich and powerful and skinny and good stuff like that.' He says, 'Be generous, be loving and kind, look out for your neighbor and look out for the poor.' That is the work of the holiness," Cardinal McCarrick adds.