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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 16:01 GMT
Pope approves creation of new saints
Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul is keen to create more saints
Pope John Paul II has cleared the way for the creation of three new saints - one from 16th Century Mexico, the other two controversial figures from 20th century Europe.

On Thursday, John Paul approved miracles attributed to the three men, the final step before they can be canonised.

Worshipper in Mexico
A worshipper touches a statue of Juan Diego
The three men are the Mexican Indian Juan Diego, credited with seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1531; the Spanish founder of the Opus Dei movement, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer; and the Italian mystic Padre Pio.

During his 23-year papacy, John Paul has beatified 1,267 people and elevated 456 people to sainthood - more than any other pope.

Vision

Mexicans say Juan Diego's vision of the Virgin Mary, known as the 'Virgin of Guadalupe' was the first proof that Christianity had arrived in America with the Spanish conquest.

Many Mexicans venerate the Virgin and Juan Diego, who is credited with saving the life of a young boy in 1990.

Escriva de Balaguer, whose conservative Opus Dei movement is known to be admired by the Pope, died in 1975.

Padre Pio celebrating mass
Padre Pio had millions of followers
He encouraged committed Catholics to work as professionals and spread their beliefs in that way. But Opus Dei, one of the fastest growing movements in the Roman Catholic Church, has been criticised as being secretive and ultra-conservative.

Padre Pio, who died in 1968, was regarded as a saint during his lifetime in Italy, as he performed good works and was said to bear the marks - or stigmata - similar to the wounds Christians believe Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified.

Cult figure

At one time during his life, the Vatican was reluctant to recognise the stigmata, but the Pope now says they were genuine.

The small town in southern Italy where Padre Pio preached and lived has become a shrine rivalling Lourdes, visited by millions of pilgrims each year.

His cult has spawned a huge business in souvenirs, statues and icons worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year. He is also present on the internet, with more than 3,000 websites in his name.

No date has been given for the actual canonisation of the three men.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Willey
"His cult has spawned a huge business in souvenirs, statues and icons"
See also:

21 Dec 01 | Europe
What is Opus Dei?
18 Nov 01 | Europe
Pope calls Assisi peace meeting
29 Mar 01 | World
Pope reaches out to Islam
30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Vatican
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