London, Dec 19 (ANI): Late Pope John Paul II is set to be declared "venerable" by Pope Benedict XVI in the first of three official stages that the previous pontiff will take on his fast-track journey towards sainthood.
Pope Benedict XVI will be making the announcement on December 20, and the late Pope will then be beatified next October, the month after the Venerable John Henry Newman is beatified.
Venerable John Henry Newman will become England's first non-martyr saint since the Reformation.
Cardinal Newman died in 1890, meaning that it will have taken him 120 years to be beatified, the second stage towards canonisation, for which a necessary miracle, the healing of a lay deacon in the US, was ratified this year.
Another miracle must be found, and it could take many years more, for him to be canonised.
By contrast, John Paul II died in April 2005 and is speeding towards canonisation at a pace unequalled even by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who died in 1997 and was beatified six years later.
Only martyrs can be canonised without needing two miracles, one for beatification and one for actual sainthood.
The main push for John Paul's canonisation has come from Poland, and some critics there have questioned the speed of its progress.
To be declared venerable, a church investigation has to be able to conclude that the person in question lived a life of exemplary holiness and heroic virtue.
There must be nothing in the dead person's writings that enable these characteristics to be challenged.
Few, however, question the extraordinary legacy of John Paul, already referred to around the world as "John Paul the Great".
He was Pope for nearly 27 years, the second-longest pontificate after Pope Pius IX, the only Polish pope in history and the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Adrian VI in the 16th century.
He was central to the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe and was widely travelled, visiting 129 countries, including Britain in 1982.
He also beatified and canonised a record number of saints, 1,340 and 483 respectively, more than all of his predecessors in total over the preceding five centuries.
Normally it takes at least five years for the process even to begin but Pope Benedict XVI started it two months after the death of John Paul II in response to the calls of "Santo subito!" ("a saint at once") from the crowds at his funeral.
More than 250 claims of miracles, mainly regarding alleged healings from cancer, have been made but the one eventually investigated in 2006 was when a French nun, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, was cured of Parkinson's disease.
Doctors declared her cure "scientifically inexplicable" after her sisters prayed for the late Pope's intercession and she suddenly found herself able to pick up a pen and write his name.
"I was sick and now I am cured," Times Online quoted her as having said at the time.
A source revealed that after studying the 2,000-page positio produced in the investigation by the postulator Father Slawomir Oder, Pope Benedict is expected to sign the decree tomorrow declaring his predecessor venerable.
October 16 has been chosen for the beatification because it is the anniversary of John Paul II being elected Pope in 1978.
The present Pope, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, served as John Paul II's prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he earned himself the nickname "God's rottweiler".
His three encyclicals and, most recently, his rapid response to the Irish abuse scandals have shown that he is a more complex and saintly character than this caricature suggested, more a life-saving St Bernard than a German attack dog.
During the Pope's three-day visit to Britain next September he will deliver a key address, with Oxford, Durham and St Andrews universities possible venues. (ANI)