VATICAN CITY — For more than a week, Vatican sources have been predicting that on Saturday Pope Benedict would sign the decree declaring that Pope John Paul II heroically lived the Christian virtues — a major step toward eventual beatification of the late pope.
The decree declaring Pope John Paul “venerable” would confirm a recommendation made by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes after years of study. We reported in November on the congregation’s action here.
It’s premature, but already Vatican officials — and the Roman patrons of my local coffee bar — are talking about a likely beatification ceremony in October of 2010, perhaps on the Oct. 16 anniversary of the late pope’s election in 1978.
Before beatification occurs, however, the Vatican must approve a miracle attributed to Pope John Paul’s intercession. Church experts are already studying a possible miracle, the cure of a French nun from Parkinson’s disease, the same disease from which Pope John Paul suffered.
In 2005, Pope Benedict set Pope John Paul on the fast track to beatification by waiving the normal five-year waiting period for the introduction of his sainthood cause. That seemed to respond to the “Santo subito!” (“Sainthood now!”) banners that were held aloft at Pope John Paul’s funeral. In April, the church will mark the fifth anniversary of Pope John Paul’s death.
The initial diocesan phase of his sainthood cause was completed in April 2007. In November of 2008, a team of theological consultors to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes began studying the 2,000-page “positio,” the document that made the case for beatification. After their favorable judgment, the cardinal and bishop members of the sainthood congregation met last month and gave their go-ahead for the decree of heroic virtues.
The presumed miracle, meanwhile, is being studied in a five-step process that involves medical experts, a medical board, theological consultors, the members of the congregation and, finally, Pope Benedict.
There’s some speculation that Pope Benedict might be ready to approve the miracle along with the heroic virtues. That happens rarely, but it does happen: in December of 2002, Pope John Paul II signed decrees on the same day affirming the heroic virtues of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and a miraculous cure attributed to her intercession. She was beatified the following October.
Pope Benedict on Saturday is also expected to formally recognize the miracle needed for the canonization of Blessed Mary MacKillop, the Australian founder of a religious order dedicated to educating the children of the poor.