Pope Benedict XVI moved John Paul II one step closer to sainthood on Sunday in a Mass that drew around 1.5 people to Rome, the New York Times reports. Amongst the crowd -- the largest to gather in St. Peter’s Square since John Paul’s funeral in 2005 -- could even be found Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, despite his EU-wide travel ban for alleged human rights abuses. (The Vatican denies personally inviting Mugabe to the Sunday event, according to CNN. )
Becoming a saint is a considerable process. A brief recap:
Nomination. Benedict waived the traditional five-year wait to begin the beautification trial, which began just weeks after John Paul's death. This decision was particularly controversial due to the sex abuse scandal that came to light in the last years of John Paul's reign. Although his legacy seems far less marked by the scandals than Benedict's is sure to be, many of the crimes and cover-ups of priests who raped children occurred on John Paul's 27-year watch.
Investigation. This has been the fastest trial in modern sainthood. Vatican officials have insisted that John Paul deserves beatification despite the fallout from the abuse scandal, saying the saint-making process isn't a judgment of how he administered the church but rather whether he "lived a life of Christian virtue." Peggy Noonan writes for the Wall Street Journal, "Some will speak of mistakes and sins in his papacy, and they are right. But saints are first of all human, and their lives are always flawed, full of contradictions, and marked by stark failures. Yet they are individuals of heroic virtue."
On the other hand, the Associated Press reports that victims' groups such as the U.S. Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests have said the speedy process was just "rubbing more salt in these wounds" of victims.
Miracles. Two miracles are required for canonization. At the beatification, Benedict greeted Sister Marie Simone-Pierre, a French nun who said that she recovered from Parkinson’s disease after praying to John Paul — a cure that Benedict declared miraculous (although, as Reuters reports, some have expressed doubts).
Beatification. At the Mass, Benedict declared John Paul “blessed,” meaning that he is able to be publicly venerated. Benedict kissed a reliquary in the form of an olive branch, holding a test tube filled with some of John Paul’s blood, saved by a Rome hospital in case the he ever needed a blood transfusion.
John Paul is still short one miracle to becoming a saint. Tricky though that might sound to pull off, many believe the declaration of a second miracle followed by canonization is a fait accompli.