John Paul II's Road To Sainthood

This article was written by CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey.

The crowds in St. Peter's Square for the pope's weekly Sunday blessing vary from large to respectable to thin, depending on the weather.

It was packed under fine spring sunshine Sunday, but it would have been the same no matter what the weather, because this is the first anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. Tens of thousands have come to mark it, and pray for his elevation to sainthood. The Italian authorities are expecting up to 150,000 pilgrims to be in Rome this weekend to attend a remembrance service in St Peter's Square.

The schedule of events calls for Pope Benedict XVI to speak from the window of the papal apartments overlooking the square after a minute of silence is observed at 9:37 p.m. local time Sunday, exactly one year to the minute since John Paul II.

What the masses looking up really want to hear is a proclamation that the much revered Polish pope is what many of them already believe - he is a saint.

It won't happen, even though Benedict has put his predecessor on an unprecedented "fast track" to the highest pantheon the Catholic church has for those it considers truly worthy.

He made a gesture in the right direction, however. Benedict said his predecessor had "left a deep mark on the history of the church and humanity."

Recalling that the dying pope issued his final blessing from the very window at which he was speaking, Benedict said: "John Paul died as he lived, moved by an indomitable courage of faith."

Testimony that the candidate lived an exemplary life of holiness and dedication is among the necessities for sainthood.

The new pope is adamant that "fast track" does not mean "short cut," according to the chief postulator, Monsignor Slawomir Oder.

The Polish priest said in an interview with CBS News that he has specific instructions from Benedict on how to do his job. "He said to me, you must do it quickly but strictly, very well."

Given that Benedict has shown a propensity for observing strict protocol, the injunction to do it well means not skipping a step. "Quickly" is a relative term, however. The Church tends to think in terms of millennia. Indeed it took seven centuries for Joan of Arc to achieve sainthood. John Paul II devotees won't have to wait anything like that, but even foregone conclusions take time.

The rules call for at least two miracles to be attested. Roughly defined as events for which there is no logical explanation in the natural order of things, miracles have changed over the ages. What seemed miraculous in the 16th century, for example, may not be even given a second glance in light of the medical knowledge and advances of the modern age. But it is "miracle cures" that proliferate.


The best prospect for John Paul II's case seems to be that of a French nun who suffered from Parkinson's disease and was "cured" of all symptoms after prayers to the late pope. Cynics might be tempted to note several convenient points in the case of the nun: John Paul II also had Parkinson's, his adoration of the Virgin Mary translated into a penchant for elevating women to sainthood, and the one in question this time is reportedly involved in convincing unwed mothers to keep rather than abort their babies.

There are plenty of other claims, and no doubt at least some of them will fit the criteria that calls for further investigation.

So far, more than 5,000 letters and e-mails have arrived. "I receive letters that say 'Monsignor Oder don't waste your time he is already saint,'" the postulator said.

A year ago when he started the job, Monsignor Oder worked alone in a small office adjacent to the church of St. John Lateran. But the flood of notes, letters, and petitions for intercession left at the tomb of John Paul II beneath the altar of St. Peter's Basilica has already all but overwhelmed another, larger office next door. Three staffers sort, catalogue and file them.

Ten hours a day, seven days a week, the pilgrims pass the tomb. Many take pictures, others kneel and pray, almost all cross themselves. Not even the merely curious need the message in five languages that is broadcast in low tones from overhead speakers: "This is a sacred place. Please observe silence and contemplation."

In addition to several, dark-suited Vatican lay employees who occasionally signal people to keep moving, there is a man whose sole job is to accept whatever people hand him, mostly medallions, crucifixes and rosaries, and rub them on the marble top of the sarcophagus. The deeply faithful consider it akin to attaining a relic, a practice reserved for saints.

Monsignor Oder's office also proves relics. Anyone who writes in and asks will be sent a post card with a piece of a cassock worn by John Paul II glued to it.

One of his cassocks, provided by John Paul II's long-serving secretary, Monsignor, now Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwicz, has been cut into 100,000 pieces.

Asked what would happen if 200,000 people asked for a relic, Monsignor Oder replied with a chuckle: "I suppose we'd have to ask Cardinal Dziwicz for another cassock."

It seems a request unlikely to be refused.

Nor is a failure of the process likely. Asked what would happen if at the end of his investigation he had to stand up and say that the evidence just wasn't there, Monsignor Oder laughed aloud. "I don't think about this possibility," he said, "because I am already convinced he is a saint."
The twinkly-eyed monsignor will be in good company in St. Peter's Square today.