John Paul II's Road To Sainthood

Pope John Paul II leans on his pastoral staff during his visit to the San Mattia parish church in the outskirts of Rome in this March 14, 1999 file photo.The process to beatify Pope John Paul II _ the first step toward possible sainthood _ has officially begun Monday, May 30, 2005
AP (file)
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.