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Popes Set For Sainthoods As Vatican Bends Rules
Two former popes are to be officially declared saints in an historic joint ceremony in what is being seen as an attempt to unite Roman Catholic conservatives and liberals.
Pope Francis announced that John Paul II, who died in 2005, and John XXIII, who died in 1963, would be jointly blessed at an austere service at the Vatican on April 27 next year.
He also declared he would bend Vatican rules requiring saints to have performed two "confirmed" miracles, by allowing Pope John XXIII to be sanctified having performed only one - reportedly healing an Italian nun of a haemorrhage in 2000.
John Paul II was credited with his first miracle six months after he died, when a French nun announced she had been cured of Parkinson's disease - from which the pontiff also suffered - through the power of prayer.
His second miracle reportedly saw a woman in Costa Rica healed of a serious brain condition after she prayed for John Paul's assistance on the day he was beatified in 2011. Beatification is the third of four steps towards sainthood.
John Paul II was popular during his 27 years as pope, although he alienated many with his conservative views and was blamed for hushing up paedophile priest scandals.
At his funeral in 2005, crowds of mourners cried "Santo subito!" (sainthood now) prompting the Vatican to speed up the path to sainthood, which normally begins five years after death.
John XXIII made his name by presiding over the opening of the historic Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) which overhauled the Church's rituals and doctrines and reached out to other faiths.
Many compare him with Pope Francis for their similar humble attitudes, open manner and sense of humour.
Vatican analysts believe the decision to declare them saints at the same time is aimed at unifying the Church, since each pope has his own admirers and critics.
Francis is said to be a fan of both. On the anniversary of John Paul's death this year, he prayed at the tombs of both men - an indication he sees a great personal and spiritual continuity in them.
"John XXIII is generally a hero to the Church's progressive wing, while John Paul II is typically lionised by Catholic conservatives," said John Allen, from US magazine the National Catholic Reporter.
He said the decision could be interpreted as a "statement that any attempt to set them at odds is artificial, and that what they had in common is more fundamental than any perceived differences".