Vatican may declare John Paul II a martyr

Vatican officials no longer are dismissing outright the notion that Pope John Paul II could be declared a martyr, a step that could remove the need for a confirmed miracle to beatify the late pontiff and make it easier for him to become a saint.

Associated Press reports that Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said on Friday that it is up to groups of theological experts to decide if the 1981, attempt on John Paul's life - as well as his long, public suffering before he died - warranted a declaration of martyrdom.

"In a technical, theological, juridical and canonical sense, the martyr gives his life for the faith," Saraiva Martins said in response to questions at a news conference, according to the Apcom news agency. "We have to verify the motive for the attempt on the life of (Karol) Woytyla. And this will be the work of theologians."

Ever since Pope Benedict XVI announced on 13 May that he was putting John Paul on the fast track to be beatified, questions have swirled about whether he could be declared a martyr. Doing so would remove the need for the Vatican to confirm that a miracle attributed to his intercession had occurred after his 2 April death.

The Vatican would still need to confirm that a miracle occurred after his beatification for John Paul to be declared a saint.

Church officials had initially rejected outright any suggestion that the 1981 assassination attempt could be the basis for a martyrdom declaration since John Paul lived for almost another 24 years. They also noted that other candidates for beatification and sainthood had also suffered ordinary illnesses at the end of their lives but were not declared martyrs.

However, Cardinal Camillo Ruini appeared to have been setting the stage for a possible martyrdom declaration on Tuesday when he formally opened the beatification cause for John Paul. During his remarks at the end of the service, Ruini said there was a "decisive" link between John Paul and Jesus Christ based on blood.

"John Paul truly spilled his blood in St Peter's Square on 13 May, 1981, and then again, not just his blood but he offered his life during the long years of his illness," Ruini said.

Vatican May Declare John Paul II a Martyr (The Herald-Sun Durham North Carolina/Associated Press 1/7/05)

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4 Jul 2005