Vatican to beatify John Paul II

Pope John Paul II, who made bettering relations with the Jewish world a cornerstone of his papacy, will be beatified on May 1, placing the Polish-born pontiff one step closer to sainthood.

The Vatican announced Friday that Pope Benedict XVI will preside at the Vatican ceremony.

John Paul died in 2005 and was put on a fast track to be made a saint.

“His cause began before the end of the five-year period which the current norms stipulate must pass following the death of a Servant of God,” a statement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints said. “This provision was solicited by the great fame of sanctity which Pope John Paul II enjoyed during his life, in his death and after his death.”

It said that the decision to beatify him came after the church recognized a miracle attributed to his intervention.

John Paul was elected pope in 1978. He had Jewish friends in his childhood and witnessed the Holocaust in Poland as young priest.

Throughout his papacy he reached out to Jews in unprecedented ways. In 1986 he visited the Great Synagogue in Rome, becoming the first pope to visit a synagogue. He embraced the Rome chief rabbi and described Jews as Christianity’s “older brothers.”

He met frequently with Jewish groups and representatives, promoted memory of the Holocaust and spoke out against anti-Semitism, including issueing an apologiy for the persecution of Jews by Catholics.