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MANY BELIEVE POPE SHOULD BECOME SAINT

The fervor for Pope John Paul II's canonization grew following his death, culminating in the crowd at Friday's funeral urging immediate sainthood.

Pope John Paul II's funeral was barely under way when the cardinals seated near his casket got the first insistent message from the huge crowd below. "Santo Subito," said the 15-foot-banner unfurled in St. Peter's Square.

Roughly translated from Italian, it means "Sainthood Now."

Soon an identical sign popped up farther back in the crowd, followed by several minutes of cheering, rhythmic applause and shouts of "Saint John Paul!"

By the end of Friday's Mass seven such banners were visible from the outdoor altar, each bearing the slogan of a grass-roots movement advocating the late Catholic leader's swift sanctification.

"We all saw them," Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington said after the service. "The message was clear. The people think he was a saint."

Support for John Paul's canonization "is like a tidal wave," said Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit. "It's going to come."

Vatican officials cautioned Friday that their procedure for elevating the dead to saintly status is cumbersome and can last decades. Any short cuts, they said, would require a decision by John Paul's successor, whom the cardinals expect to elect this month.

Friday's pro-sainthood demonstration showed some signs of organization and looked strongest in a section of several thousand Polish pilgrims.

Yet the movement itself is broad and apparently spontaneous, reflecting the globe-trotting pontiff's contact and enduring impact on millions of people during his 26-year reign.

In Mexico, Heron Badillo, 19, was up at 3 a.m. to watch the funeral on television. Badillo met the pope 15 years ago when he landed in the city of Zacatecas and blessed the sickly boy by touching and kissing his forehead during an airport ceremony.

In a telephone interview Friday from Zacatecas, Badillo said he strongly believes that the encounter cured him of leukemia after doctors had given up treating him. "I felt an instantaneous emotion and a new breath filling my entire body," he said, adding that he is now free of illness.

The Mexican Bishops Conference supports the teenager's testimony. Spokeswoman Marilu Esponda said the bishops plan to present it to the Vatican, along with medical records, as evidence of a "miracle."

Candidates for sainthood must pass through two rigorous examinations of documents and eyewitness reports. The first process leads to beatification, or "blessing" by the church, the second to canonization as a saint. Candidates must have proven reputations for holiness and "intercessionary" powers to deliver favors from God, such as a cure, to those who pray to them.

Opening a formal case for beatification must wait at least five years after the candidate's death, according to the rules. But many Catholics would like to see that wait abolished for John Paul, and some of those would prefer that the next pope skip the examination stages and simply proclaim him a saint.

The Rev. Peter Gumpel, a member of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said such a spur-of-the-moment proclamation is unprecedented.

Gumpel noted that Pope Paul VI had squelched a similar movement in the 1960s to sanctify his predecessor, Pope John XXIII, right away. It took Pope John until 2000 to achieve beatification.

In 1983, under John Paul's guidance, the process of beatification and canonization was streamlined to allow people to become saints more quickly. John Paul canonized 482 saints, more than all his predecessors in the last four centuries combined.

But some church officials believe the next pope might feel popular pressure to move even faster on John Paul's beatification case. He would have a precedent in John Paul's fast-track treatment of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her beatification case started two years after her death in 1997 and moved at record speed to her sainthood in 2003.

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