ROME – Pope Benedict XVI (search) said Friday he had begun the process for the sainthood of Pope John Paul II (search), overriding the usual five-year waiting period following the death of a possible candidate.
The pope made the announcement during a meeting with the Roman clergy at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, first telling the assembled priests, "and now I have a very joyous piece of news for you."
Immediately following Pope John Paul's death on April 2, there were calls from faithful for his sainthood. At his funeral Mass, pilgrims held up banners saying "Santo Subito" ("Immediate Sainthood").
The announcement came on the anniversary of an 1981 assassination attempt by a Turkish gunman against John Paul in St. Peter's Square (search).
The pope read a letter in Latin in which the Vatican official in charge of sainthood, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, announced that Benedict himself had authorized the beginning of John Paul's path to sainthood. The announcement drew a standing ovation from the Roman priests.
Benedict, who had been seated, stood up to join the clergy in applauding the major tribute to his predecessor.
John Paul himself lifted the five-year waiting period for Mother Teresa (search), after the death of the nun who dedicated her life to caring for India's poorest people.
But Vatican experts have noted that, even with the waiting period lifted, a lengthy investigation into John Paul's life and confirmation of a miracle attributed to him would be required before he could be beatified.
Vatican procedures in place for some 500 years require one miracle for someone to be beatified and a second to be canonized.
Following the late pope's death, Italian newspapers were rife with reports of alleged miracles attributed to John Paul.
But the reports stemmed from inexplicable cures that occurred while John Paul was still alive, while according to Vatican rules a miracle has to have occurred after John Paul's death for it to be considered in the saint-making process.