The campaign to make Pope John Paul a saint reached a landmark on Monday as promoters offered proof of a purported miracle but his successor gave no indication he would bend the rules to hasten the procedure.
At an afternoon mass for thousands of people in St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict commemorated John Paul on the second anniversary of his death as Church officials formally concluded the first phase of a probe into the late pope's holiness.
But in his homily, Benedict limited himself to praising his predecessor and noting that John Paul's move toward beatification -- the last step before sainthood -- was "progressing speedily" by itself.
Crowds at John Paul's funeral in April 2005 chanted "Santo Subito" ("Make him a saint now") and polls show that many Catholics believe Benedict should skip the beatification process in John Paul's case and move him directly to sainthood.
Earlier on Monday, at a ceremony that included solemn oaths and centuries-old sacred rituals, the Rome diocese gave the Vatican tens of thousands of pages of documents and transcripts which propose that John Paul should be beatified.
They include documentation on the case of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a 46-year-old French nun diagnosed with Parkinson's -- the same disease that the late Pope had -- until she said it inexplicably disappeared two months after his death.
Simon-Pierre, who worked as a maternity ward supervisor in Aix-en-Provence, could be central to the case since the Church demands proof of a medically unexplained healing before a candidate can be beatified. She attended Monday's ceremonies.
TRUNKS WITH WAX SEALS
At the morning ceremony in St John's Basilica, black leather trunks were sealed with ribbon and hot red wax as Church officials and thousands of faithful applauded.
The documentation prepared by the Rome and Krakow dioceses (where John Paul was archbishop) will now be opened and reviewed by the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
If the Vatican rules the cure of Simon-Pierre was a miracle and he is beatified, another would be required before sainthood is bestowed.
Two years is an unusually short time for the completion of the first phase of a sainthood cause, which can usually take decades or, in some cases, hundreds of years.
The evidence gathered includes testimony from some 130 people as well as scrutiny of John Paul's life, spoken words and writings.
The widespread conviction of John Paul's sanctity was stressed by the late pope's former secretary in a mass just after dawn at his crypt in St Peter's Basilica.
"The faith of the people of God clearly recognizes his sanctity," said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who in the past has suggested that Pope Benedict should skip the beatification stage for his predecessor and move directly to sainthood.
"John Paul II was a member of the friends of Jesus, that is, the group of saints," Dziwisz said.
In May, 2005, Pope Benedict put John Paul on the fast track by dispensing with Church rules that normally impose a five-year waiting period after a candidate's death before the procedure that leads to sainthood can even start.