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2 modern-day popes cleared for sainthood

| Friday, July 5, 2013, 9:06 p.m.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Friday cleared two of the 20th century's most influential popes to become saints, approving a miracle needed to canonize Pope John Paul II and waiving Vatican rules to honor Pope John XXIII.

It was a remarkable show of papal authority and confirmed Francis' willingness to bend church tradition when it comes to things he cares deeply about. Both popes are also closely identified with the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that brought the Roman Catholic Church into modern times, an indication that Francis clearly wants to make a statement about the council's role in shaping the church today.

Francis approved a decree that a Costa Rican woman's inexplicable cure from a deadly brain aneurysm was the “miracle” needed to canonize John Paul. More significantly, he decided that John XXIII, who convened Vatican II, could be declared a saint even without a second miracle attributed to his intercession. The Vatican said Francis had the power to dispense with such requirements and could proceed with only one confirmed miracle to John's name.

The ceremony is expected before the end of the year. The date of Dec. 8 has been floated as likely, given it's the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a major feast day for the church that honors Mary, to whom both saintly popes were particularly devoted. Polish prelates continue to press for October to mark the 35th anniversary of the Polish-born John Paul's election, but Vatican officials have suggested that's too soon to organize the event.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Vatican analyst, said the decision to canonize both popes was a “brilliant move to unify the church,” given that each pope has his own admirers and critics.

“With the joint announcement, Pope Francis is saying we do not have to choose between popes, we can honor and revere both as holy men who served the church well in their times,” he wrote on his blog for the National Catholic Reporter newspaper.

“Two different popes, very important to the church, will be announced saint together — it's a beautiful gesture,” said the Rev. Jozef Kloch, spokesman for Poland's Catholic bishops, who like most Poles was overjoyed by the news of John Paul's impending canonization but impatient to know the date.

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