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Pope's vision of heaven on Earth

Gayle Young

By Gayle Young
CNN Rome Bureau Chief

December 22, 1999
Web posted at: 10:20 a.m. EST (1520 GMT)

This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.

musings at the millennium

ROME (CNN) -- The late Mother Teresa is on a fast track to becoming a saint.

The Jubilee is coming! The tourists are coming!

Usually the process that leads to beatification -- the last step before canonization, or sainthood -- can't begin until five years after a candidate's death. But the Vatican recently waived that rule for the revered nun from Calcutta, who died in 1997.

John Paul II has beatified more than 140 people in his 21 years as pope, more than all the previous popes of the past 400 years combined, and he's seeking to expand the Roman Catholic pantheon.

He's looking for saints of all races, ages and walks of life. In recent years, he's beatified a Nigerian priest, Korean martyrs, an Italian teen-ager and a nun of Jewish origin.

In 1983, John Paul II reformed the rules regarding sainthood, in part to encourage the nomination of more candidates. Traditionally, sainthood was reserved for famous European priests and nuns. Now the doors have been opened to Catholics from less-developed countries.

The changes in heaven mirror those on the ground. Most Catholics today live in Africa and the Americas, not in Europe. The pope, deeply devoted to the mystical aspects of religion, believes that people can be influenced and guided by saints with whom they identify.

more musings

"People are in need of role models," says Vatican spokesman the Rev. John Foley. "They have to identify with heroes and heroines."

John Paul II, in many ways, is creating in heaven his ideal of the Catholic Church: crowded with old and young, rich and poor, people of all races, nationalities and backgrounds. His vision, perhaps, of heaven on Earth.

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