VATICAN CITY – The faithful pray to saints when especially grateful or particularly desperate. Cities around the world are christened after them. New Orleans' football team is named after the whole lot of them. Even non-believers admire those with the "patience of a saint."
The notion of sainthood varies for many people. With Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII cleared Friday to become saints, here is a quick look at sainthood in the world of Roman Catholicism.
THE LONG ROAD TO SAINTHOOD
Saints are generally holy people. For hundreds of years in the church's early history, saints were chosen by public acclaim. Pope John XV led the first canonization in 993, making Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg a saint. Ulrich made daily visits to a hospital in Augsburg daily to wash the feet of poor people.
The Catholic church eventually developed a complicated and usually long process, sometimes spanning centuries, to determine who deserves to be honored as a saint. The Catholic church first formalized its rules for naming saints after the 16th-century Council of Trent.
THE SHORTER ROAD
In 1983, Pope John Paul II, eager to give his church more role models, overhauled the process.
The following "steps" are taken down the formal path to sainthood.
"Servant of God" describes someone at the start of the process.
"Venerable" is what a pope proclaims a candidate to be after a local church investigation of the potential saint's life and writings looks carefully to see if there are "heroic" virtues and orthodoxy of doctrine. If a panel of theologians at the Vatican and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints give their seal of approval, the candidate becomes "venerable."
"Blessed," a title bestowed upon beatification, requires evidence of one miracle, except for martyrs. The miracle must happen after the candidate has died as a result of a specific plea to the candidate.
"Saint," after reports of a second miracle (or a first miracle in the case of a martyr), are verified on various levels, including at the Vatican, and the pope signs off with his approval. The candidate is "canonized," or made a saint.
In the case Friday of Pope John XXIII, Francis, the current pontiff, essentially issued a waiver, holding that it didn't matter that a second miracle hadn't been approved.
A FEW FIRSTS
First martyr? St. Stephen, whose feast day is celebrated on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, was stoned to death for being a Christian. First pope the church recognized as a saint? It was the first pope, Peter.
ALL-TIME CHAMPION SAINT-MAKER
Hands down, it's John Paul II. By the end of his long papacy, in 2005, John Paul had recognized 480 saints. That compares to 302 saints who were made during all the papacies of the previous 500 years.
THE STUFF OF MIRACLES
The healing of varicose veins after a Brazilian nun who prayed to the late Austrian emperor, Karl I, made the monarch meet the miracle requirement for his beatification in 2004.
At the same ceremony at the Vatican led by John Paul II, a German mystic, Sister Anna Katharina Emmerick, was also beatified. Her violent visions of Christ's suffering helped inspire Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ." In her case, the Vatican concluded that a German nun's recovery from tuberculosis in 1860 miraculously occurred because of Emmerick's intercession.
SOME PATHS ARE FASTER THAN OTHERS
Besides the successful "santo subito" (sainthood immediately) lobby for John Paul II, a populist call that rose up in the hours immediately following his death in 2005 and saw him beatified six years later, another "first-track" story along is that of Mother Teresa.
John Paul, a huge fan of the nun who toiled in India for the poorest of the poor, waived the normal five-year waiting period after her death in 1997 for her beatification processes to begin, and he beatified her in 2003.
Now John Paul, passing muster for sainthood under Francis' fledgling papacy, has beaten her to the finish line on the path to sainthood, with the Vatican saying Friday he will be canonized by the end of 2013. Mother Teresa's cause for canonization still awaits another possible miracle to be certified for sainthood. With Francis making the poor a priority of his papacy, Mother Teresa's cause might get a big boost.