The late Pope John Paul moved a major step closer to sainthood on Sunday at a ceremony that drew more than a million people, the largest crowd in Rome since his funeral six years ago.
Here are some key facts about the canonization process by which the Roman Catholic Church makes a saint:
* THE PROCESS:
-- Under normal Church rules, five years must pass after a person dies before the procedure for sainthood can even begin. Despite a person's reputation of holiness during his or her life, the process cannot begin until after death.
-- The reigning pope has the authority to waive the five-year waiting period. Pope Benedict put John Paul on the fast track in May 2005, just two months after his predecessor died.
-- When the local bishop begins the "cause," the candidate for sainthood receives the title "Servant of God." A "postulator" is then appointed to help gather information about the candidate. The postulator also reviews nearly every word known to have been written or spoken by the candidate.
-- One miracle is required after a candidate's death for the cause to move on to beatification. The miracle must be the result of a person praying to the candidate for intercession with God. Miracles are usually the healing of medical conditions that doctors are at a loss to explain.
-- The candidate can then be beatified and declared a "blessed" of the church. Another distinct miracle is needed between beatification and canonization, or the conferring of sainthood.
-- Parts of the Church's saint-making process go back several centuries. The procedure is detailed and often long. In the early Church, a simple acclamation sufficed.
* THE FIRST MIRACLE:
-- Last January, Benedict approved a decree attributing a miracle to John Paul's intercession with God and announced that he would be beatified on May 1.
-- The miracle concerned Sister Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, a French nun diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, from which the pope himself had suffered. She said in June 2005 her illness inexplicably disappeared two months after his death when she and her fellow nuns prayed to him.
Sources: Reuters; www.newadvent.org
(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)