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Date set for popes to become saints

Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be declared saints on April 27 next year, Pope Francis has decided during a meeting with cardinals.

Francis had announced in July he would canonise two of the 20th century's most influential popes together, approving a miracle attributed to John Paul's intercession and bending Vatican rules by deciding that John XXIII did not need one.

Analysts have said the decision to canonise them together was aimed at unifying the church, since each pope has his admirers and critics. Francis is clearly a fan of both: On the anniversary of John Paul's death this year, Francis prayed at the tombs of both men - an indication that he sees a great personal and spiritual continuity in them.

Both popes are also closely identified with the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that brought the Catholic Church into modern times, an indication that Francis clearly wants to make a statement about the council's role in shaping the church today.

A spokesman for Poland's bishops' conference said the dual canonisations would stress the fact that John Paul II continued the ideas introduced by John XXIII.

Originally, the canonisation was expected to have taken place December 8. But Polish bishops complained that would make it difficult for Polish pilgrims to come to the Vatican by bus along snowy, icy roads. As a result, the first Sunday after Easter was chosen instead - a feast day established by John Paul.

It was on that same feast day - Divine Mercy Sunday - that John Paul was beatified in 2011, drawing 1.5 million pilgrims to Rome.

John Paul made Jorge Mario Bergoglio - the current Pope Francis - a cardinal. Francis' immense popular appeal has also been likened to that of John XXIII, dubbed the "good pope."

-AP

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