John Paul I Comes Closer to Sainthood

The first stages of the process to make the Pope John Paul I a saint of the Roman Catholic Church have been finalised over the weekend in the northern Italian town of Belluno.

Pope John Paul I was pontiff for just 33 days and was known fondly as the 'smiling Pope', or 'Papa Luciani'. Even though he had one of the most brief stints as pope in history, and died in 1978, his many surviving admirers feel that his saintly qualities should be officially recognised.

Pope John Paul I said during his life, "For me civic, social and political freedom coincides exactly with the message of Jesus Christ."

His position as the Roman Catholic head was cut short following a sudden heart attack.

In 2003, the local bishop in the town of Belluno near Venice, where John Paul I was born and spent most of his life as priest and then bishop, instigated the formal investigation.

As the process has continued, almost 200 witnesses have come forward to testify evidence for the smiling Pope's sainthood.

Historically, the process to beatify a member of the Roman Catholic Church can take decades and even in a number of cases has taken centuries.

Papa Luciani's successor, Pope John Paul II, is also himself already on the first track to sainthood.

To be successfully given the status of saint in the Church, at least one miracle such as medical cure inexplicable by ordinary science must be witnessed and confirmed by the Vatican.