VATICAN CITY--Pope John Paul II cleared the way Thursday for Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who ministered to Native and African-Americans, to become a saint and John XXIII, the most beloved pope of the 20th century, to be declared blessed during Holy Year 2000 celebrations.

The Roman Catholic pontiff also approved the beatifications of theRev. Francis Xavier Seelos, a German-born priest who worked among Germanimmigrants to the United States in the 19th century, and seven othercandidates for possible sainthood. Beatification is the penultimate stepbefore canonization.

Drexel, who founded the still-active religious order of the Sistersof the Blessed Sacrament in 1891, will be the United States' fifth saintand only the second born in the country.

Her rise to sainthood was unusually rapid, coming only 45 yearsafter her death in 1955 and only 36 years after Cardinal John Krol ofPhiladelphia introduced her cause for canonization in 1964. She wasbeatified in 1988.

John XXIII, known in Italy as "il papa buono" (the good pope),reigned only from 1958 to 1963 but was loved for his warm personalityand admired for calling the Second Vatican Council to reform and renewthe church. Following his death during the first session of Vatican II,many bishops attending the council proposed that he be proclaimed asaint by acclamation, but Pope Paul VI, his successor, preferred thenormal procedure and opened his cause in 1965.

At Thursday's ceremony, Archbishop Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect ofthe Congregation for the Causes of Saints "promulgated," or declared,the congregation's decree in each of the 10 causes in the presence ofPope John Paul II, who then signed them.

The church believes saints ascend to heaven and can intercede withGod in behalf of the living.

The process of canonization starts with establishing that thecandidate lived a life of "heroic virtues" worthy of veneration. Tobecome blessed, a candidate must either have died a martyr or be heldresponsible for a miracle that cannot be explained according to the lawsof science. A second miracle is required for canonization.

Born in 1858, Drexel was the debutante daughter of an internationalbanker but turned her back on society to become a nun. She invested herfortune of some $20 million in schools, missions and other services forNative and African-Americans and established America's first blackcollege, now Xavier University in New Orleans.

In reporting to John Paul on his congregation's findings in hercause, Saraiva Martins said Drexel was for her time an "authenticpioneer of human rights." Her order continues her work in 48 ministrysites in 12 states and Haiti.

Drexel is credited with restoring the hearing of two deaf children.

The second miracle, certified by a Vatican medical board Oct. 7, was thecure of an unidentified 17-month-old child born in 1992 with nervedeafness.

Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton of Baltimore was America's firstnative-born saint. The other American saints are Mother Frances Cabriniof Chicago, Bishop John Neumann of Philadelphia and Sister RosePhilippine Duchesne of St. Charles, Mo.

The pope will conduct two canonization Masses in St. Peter's Squareduring Holy Year, on May 21 and Oct. 1.

John XXIII's cause advanced when doctors ruled Jan. 23 that in 1966he had miraculously cured a young postulate, Caterina Capitani, 24, whowas dying in a Naples hospital from "a hemorrhaging gastric perforationwith external fistulization and acute peritonitis."

She had been allowed to take her final vows as a nun and receivedthe church's last rites when her fellow nuns began praying to John XXIIIand placed his photograph on her wound. The pope appeared to her in avision and, according to testimony, doctors discovered five days afterthey had given her up for dead that she was fully recovered without evena scar.

Capitani, now 58, works as a head nurse in the Hospital of SanGiovanni di Dio in the Sicilian city of Agrigento.

Despite his wide popularity and a total of 15 miracles attributed tohim, John XXIII's cause met with some opposition on the grounds he hadbeen too friendly to communists and the Orthodox churches and hadenjoyed food and drink too much.

It took prodding from John Paul II to speed up the process so thathis predecessor could be beatified in the year that the church iscelebrating its Jubilee Holy Year of 2000 and the start of the thirdmillennium of Christianity.

The congregation certified both Seelos' heroic virtues and hismiracle in Thursday's decrees. A Redemptorist priest who went to theUnited States from Fussen in Bavaria in 1843, he worked among fellowimmigrants in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit and New Orleans where hedied of yellow fever in 1867.

His cause had languished since the turn of the century, but hisorder revived it in the 1960s. In 1966, Angela Boudreaux of suburban NewOrleans reported that after doctors gave her only two weeks to live, herprayers to Seelos and those of her family brought about her recoveryfrom a fast-growing, inoperable liver cancer.

Boudreau, now 70 and in good health, said she would attend the Mass in St. Peter's Square on April 9 in which the pope will beatify Seelos.

John XXIII is expected to be beatified on Sept. 3 along with PopePius IX, who was overthrown as ruler of the papal states of centralItaly in 1870 by the forces that unified Italy.

The congregation also certified the martyrdoms of a Thai priest, aVietnamese teacher of the catechism and a Filippino catechist killed inGuam and the miracles of an Irish priest, who ministered in Belgium, aMalese priest and the founders of Indian and a Swedish orders of nuns.