While the saint-making apparatus now runs smoothly at the Vatican, the current procedures evolved only gradually in the church. Early Christians venerated the apostles and the Roman martyrs, and each locale developed its own list of favorite saints. By the thirteenth century, Pope Gregory IX regularized the process to prevent any non-saintly people from getting the nod. These days the process still begins on a local level, which makes sense: those who actually knew the person could best testify to his or her holiness. Five years after a person's death, the local Catholic bishop decides whether to pass the case (also known as a "cause") along to the Vatican. Then the person is called a "Servant of God." Once that happens, things move to the Vatican, where a "postulator" summarizes the person's life and writings and presents the file to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. For the person to be beatified a medically verifiable miracle is required. (That's where John Paul's cause stands.) He or she is then known as "Blessed." Another miracle is required before sainthood, and at that point someone in the Vatican (usually the pope) makes a public declaration, during a Mass, of the canonization, and the person is officially called "Saint."
How Close Is John Paul to Canonization?
The Catholic Church is tough on what constitutes a medical miracle. It has to be instantaneous, not able to be attributed to other treatments, and amply documented by doctors--preferably non-Catholic ones. That's what happened when a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, was cured. (It also doesn't hurt when you have a convent full of nuns ready to testify to the veracity of their sister's cure.) This miracle means that John Paul II is one step closer to being beatified, which is one step away from canonization. On the second anniversary of his death, the diocese of Rome turned over reams of documents, including his writings and personal testimonies of those who knew him, to the Vatican. If another miracle is attributed to him, and the Vatican approves of his papers (which is a no-brainer), John Paul II will be canonized.