Video: Beatifying Pope John Paul II
updated 6/28/2005 5:32:08 PM ET 2005-06-28T21:32:08

The first step in the road to sainthood began for Pope John Paul II began on Tuesday in Rome with a mass in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome.

Pope Benedict the XVI waived the traditional five-year waiting period that candidates must go through for his predecessor, allowing for the process to begin immediately.

Father Thomas Williams, professor or Moral Theology in the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome, joined MSNBC's Chris Jansing on Tuesday to discuss the beatification process for Pope John Paul II.

To read an excerpt of their interview, continue to the text below. To watch the video clip, click on the link above.

Chris Jansing:  What is the beatification process?

Fr. Thomas Williams:  Well, as you remember Chris, both you and I were in Rome at the time of the Pope's funeral.  One of the first things Pope Benedict said being elected was that he was going to be a listening pope.  He was going to listen to the people and the people as we know on that very day were crying "Sainthood now!"

So he initiated this process.  He waived the five-year waiting period and now there's massive data and massive testimonies.  Some say they've got more than a dozen people that have stepped forward with this.

Jansing:  Testimony about miracles?

Williams:  No, testimony about the life and virtue of Pope John Paul II.  They're reading all his writings, the private and the public ones.  They're listening to testimony, both positive and negative.  There's someone who's been made the Promoter of Justice, (which) used to be called the Devil's Advocate, the ones who look for a maybe dark side to this personality.

Was there anything bad about his life?  I doubt he's going to find very much but he is going to check it out and then once they've gone through all this evidence, they're going to present it to the pope and he will determine whether or not Pope John Paul will be beatified.

Jansing:  The question I'm getting from non-Catholics is why do Catholics even have this process?

Williams:  As Christians, we understand that anyone who's in heaven is a saint.  Those who are canonized or beatified are such a very small number.  The reason the church does this is two-fold.  In the first case, to give us models of virtues to really cut down.  To canonize people from all walks of life so Christians have people that lived the way they lived in a much more beautiful way.

The second reason is that we have someone to intercede for you in heaven.  We have people we can turn to that say prayers to make you closer to God. 

Jansing:  We have the beatification process and then the canonization.  How long will the process take?

Williams:  It would probably take four years.  The whole waiting period was waived but there's still a very long process and other corners that can't be cut. 

Jansing:  Can you imagine what the canonization will be like?

Williams:  I remember the two largest when I've been in Rome, the past 15 years.  Mother Theresa of Calcutta and St. Josemaria (Escriva) Alvaro del Portillo the founder of the Opus Dei movement.  Both of those were huge, estimated up to 500,000 people in Rome.  I have a feeling for Pope John Paul II, it could exceed that.

MSNBC Live with Amy Robach and Randy Meier can be seen weekdays from 9 a.m.-Noon.

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