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Popes John Paul II, John XXIII cleared for sainthood

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis yesterday cleared two of the 20th century's most influential popes to become saints, approving a miracle needed to canonize Pope John Paul II and waiving Vatican rules to honor Pope John XXIII.

In a major demonstration of his papal authority, Francis decided that John XXIII could be declared a saint even though the Vatican hasn't confirmed a second miracle attributed to his intercession. The Vatican said Francis had the power to dispense with such requirements and proceed with only one confirmed miracle to his name.

The ceremony is expected before the end of the year. The date of Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, has been floated as a possibility.

The announcement came on a remarkable day melding papacies past and present: It opened with Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI attending their first Vatican ceremony together, sitting side by side on matching papal chairs for the unveiling of a statue in the Vatican gardens. It continued with the publication of Francis' first encyclical, a meditation on faith that was largely written by Benedict before he retired. And it climaxed with Francis' decision to canonize two other predecessors.

Francis was made a cardinal by John Paul and is very much a pope of the Second Vatican Council, the groundbreaking church meetings that brought the Catholic Church into the modern world. John XXIII opened Vatican II a year before his death in 1963.

"Two different popes, very important to the church, will be announced saint together -- it's a beautiful gesture," said the Rev. Jozef Kloch, spokesman for Poland's Catholic bishops.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the miracle that brought John Paul to the ranks of saints concerned a Costa Rican woman.

Floribeth Mora, 50, suffered from a cerebral aneurysm that was inexplicably cured on May 1, 2011 -- the date of John Paul's beatification, when 1.5 million people filled St. Peter's Square to honor the Polish pontiff, who had died in 2005.

Less than a month earlier, Mora went to the hospital with debilitating head pain and was sent home with only a month to live. "I returned home with the horror of imminent death," she told reporters in San Jose, Costa Rica, Friday.

Her family built an altar to John Paul II outside her house, and while Mora was watching the beatification ceremony, she picked up a magazine and, looking at a photo of the pope, started to hear a voice.

"It said, 'Get up, don't be afraid,' " Mora said.

Mora said she stood up and felt instantly better. Medical exams found her aneurysm had disappeared. The Spanish newspaper La Razon quoted her doctor, Dr. Alejandro Vargas, as saying: "I can't explain it based on science."

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