Hundreds Urge Beatification of John Paul

Hundreds of letters and e-mails testifying to the late Pope John Paul II's (search) saintliness — including reports of possible medical miracles attributed to him — have arrived in Rome in recent weeks supporting his beatification, the cleric spearheading his case said Wednesday.

Polish Monsignor Slawomir Oder told The Associated Press his office has been overwhelmed by an "explosion" of correspondence since the public was invited to write to the Diocese of Rome about John Paul's virtues last month.

"The thing that surprises me is the great love that comes out in these letters — people who feel the moral need to pay a debt for what they have received from the pope," Oder said as he leafed through a handwritten letter of poetry dedicated to John Paul from a writer in his native Poland.

"In this mass of letters that have arrived, surely some merit further in-depth investigation that could spark a more profound inquiry" about a possible medical miracle, he said.

Beatification is the first step toward sainthood. The Vatican (search) must confirm a miracle has occurred after the pope's death for him to be beatified. A second miracle after beatification is needed for him to be declared a saint.

Pope Benedict XVI (search) announced May 13 that he had waived the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed John Paul's beatification cause to begin immediately. The move was in response to the groundswell of calls for him to be canonized, including chants of "Santo Subito!" or "Sainthood Immediately!" that erupted during John Paul's April 8 funeral mass.

John Paul's beatification cause officially opens Tuesday, when Oder and others involved in the case will take an oath promising to keep the testimony of witnesses secret and to not accept "any type of gift" that might corrupt the process.