The Roman Catholic Church will beatify the late Pope John Paul II in Rome on Sunday. The ceremony is an important milestone on the road to Catholic sainthood for one of the most popular pontiffs in history. During his 26 years as head of the Roman Catholic Church, John Paul II is credited with helping to bring down communism, energizing young Catholics and bolstering the church presence in the developing world.
The throngs at Pope John Paul II’s funeral were already shouting santo subito - or saint instantly!
And his successor, Benedict XVI, fast-tracked the canonization process. Instead of taking centuries, the Catholic Church will take the last major step before sainthood and beatify John Paul just six years and 29 days after his death. That’s even faster than the beatification of the revered nun, Mother Teresa.
Monsignor Walter Rossi met John Paul in 1997 and brought back his zucchetto or skullcap.
"There’s a tradition that if you give the pope a zucchetto he has to take off the one that he is wearing and give it to you and put the one you give him on his head," he said.
Monsignor Rossi says the late pope appeared to be a saint while alive.
"You saw just in his general demeanor and manner, man of great faith, a man of great belief, a depth of personal piety and holiness and now the church is saying, 'Yes, this is really true this was this man,'" said Rossi, who is the rector of Washington D.C.’s National Basilica, the largest Catholic church in North America.
John Paul II was the first reigning pope to visit this national shrine, and he prayed here in this chapel, which is dedicated to the Polish Madonna.
The Polish-born pope made 104 trips abroad - more than any other pontiff in history. He also forgave the man who tried to assassinate him in 1981.
Chester Gillis, a Georgetown University theology professor who has written about the papacy, says the beatification of John Paul II will be good for the church.
"And it will probably burnish the image of the church when the image has been teetering in other areas, particularly the sexual abuse scandal which it has received so much negative publicity on," he said.
Opponents of the beatification believe the pope may have had a role in covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests. Other critics think he was too accepting of indigenous customs.
But millions of John Paul fans are excited about the beatification of a man who made Catholicism cool for young people like Catholic blogger Sarah Vabulas.
"I think a lot of the complaints about our saints is that they’re antiquated," she said. "How can you relate to them? They didn’t live with technology, they didn’t live with all the struggles that we have in the 20th century. But here we are Pope John Paul II lived in the times that we did and to be declared a saint that is just absolutely amazing."
A massive turnout for the beatification is expected at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Other celebrations will be held at Catholic churches around the world, including the National Basilica.