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Date set for Popes John Paul II and John XXIII sainthood


Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be declared saints on 27 April 2014, Pope Francis has announced.

The Pope said in July that he would canonise his two predecessors, after approving a second miracle attributed to John Paul.

Polish John Paul, the first non-Italian pope for more than 400 years, led the Catholic Church from 1978-2005.

Pope John was pontiff from 1958-1963, calling the Second Vatican Council that transformed the Church.

The decision to canonise the two at the same time appears designed to unify Catholics, correspondents say.

John Paul II is a favourite of conservative Catholics, while John XXIII is widely admired by the Church’s progressive wing.

Adam Easton BBC News, Warsaw

John Paul II’s life and teachings have had an enormous impact in Poland, his homeland.

The number of young Polish men training to become priests rose by about a third after his election in 1978, peaking in the mid-1980s.

Polish Catholic Church leaders will be hoping his canonisation will have a similar effect.

The number of Polish seminarians – while still much higher than in the rest of Europe – has been declining steadily since his death in 2005.

‘The good pope’

John Paul stood out for his media-friendly, globetrotting style. He was a fierce critic of communism, and is credited with helping inspire opposition to communist rule in eastern Europe.

John Paul has been on a fast track to sainthood since his death, when crowds in St Peter’s Square chanted “santo subito” (“sainthood now”).

During his own papacy he simplified the process by which people are made saints, and created more of them than all previous popes combined.

John XXIII is remembered for introducing the vernacular to replace Latin in church masses and for creating warmer ties between the Catholic Church and the Jewish faith.

He has a big following in Italy, where he is known as Il Papa Buono, the good pope.

The BBC’s David Willey reports from Rome that Pope John was in many ways similar to Pope Francis, a humble, down-to-earth man with a fine sense of humour.

Two living popes are expected to be present at the canonisation ceremony: Francis, who will officiate, and Pope Benedict, who retired earlier this year.

The double canonisation will be the first in the Church’s history.


Two miracles have been officially attributed to Pope John Paul II – the number usually needed for canonisation.

The first miracle was the apparent curing of a 49-year-old French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre Normand. She had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, the same malady which afflicted the pope himself in his later years.

The second miracle came on the day of John Paul II’s beatification by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. A Costa Rican woman reportedly made an “inexplicable recovery” from a serious brain illness, and the only explanation was believed to be the fact that her family had prayed for John Paul II’s intercession.

Pope John XXIII was beatified by John Paul II in 2000, and Pope Francis took the unusual step of waiving the requirement of a second miracle in his case.

Gilad Shalit freed in Israeli-Palestinian prisoner swap

Courtesy: BBC News Middle East

Hamas has handed over Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to Egyptian mediators after five years’ captivity, as part of a prisoner swap deal with Israel, Hamas officials have told the BBC.

More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners are due to be freed. The first 477 are being released on Tuesday.

Sgt Shalit was seized in 2006 by Hamas militants who tunnelled into Israel.

On Monday the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a bid by families of victims of militant attacks to delay the swap.

The day’s events are unfolding in a carefully choreographed sequence.

Early on Tuesday Gilad Shalit, 25, was taken to the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, to be handed over to Egypt in the presence of Israeli representatives.

Israeli Defence Forces later confirmed they had identified he was alive and well.

Egyptian TV showed footage of Sgt Shalit being escorted from a vehicle in Egypt. It was the first time he had appeared in a video since 2009.

Earlier, sources told the BBC that Hamas guards were still with Sgt Shalit, and would only withdraw when all the Palestinian prisoners to be released had left Israel.

Sgt Shalit is then to be transferred to the Kerem Shalom crossing between Egypt and Israel.

After he has made a phone call to his parents and undergone a brief medical examination, he will be flown by helicopter to the Tel Nof airbase in Israel.

He will be undergoing further checks at Tel Nof, where he will meet members of his family, as well as Mr Netanyahu.

If he is fit, Sgt Shalit will then be flown with his family to northern Israel and escorted by a convoy to his home town of Mitzpe Hila, in the western Galilee.

While this is going on, the first of 477 Palestinian prisoners destined for Gaza or exile abroad are to cross into Egypt from Kerem Shalom, a 10-minute drive from Rafah.

Early on Tuesday, a large convoy of inmates left a prison in the south of Israel while a smaller group left another in the centre of the country – both under heavy security.

The remaining 550 are scheduled to be released next month.

Benazir Bhutto killed in attack

I was shocked this morning at seeing this report across news channels. Such sadness and senseless killing of a woman who had such great hope for her country. Eternal Rest Grant her and may Perpetual Light shine upon her…

Benazir Bhutto at the rally on 27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto had been addressing rallies in many parts of Pakistan

Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated in a suicide attack. Ms Bhutto had just addressed an election rally in Rawalpindi when she was shot in the neck by a gunman who then set off a bomb.

At least 16 other people died in the attack and several more were injured.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the killing and urged people to remain calm so that the “nefarious designs of terrorists can be defeated.”

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack.

Ms Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), had twice been the country’s prime minister and had been campaigning ahead of elections due in January.

It was the second suicide attack against her in recent months and came amid a wave of bombings targeting security and government officials.

Nawaz Sharif, also a former prime minister and a political rival, said her death was a tragedy for “the entire nation”.

“It is not a sad day, it is [the] darkest, gloomiest day in the history of this country,” he said, speaking at the hospital where she was taken.

The United Nations Security Council is to meet for emergency consultations shortly to discuss the situation in Pakistan after the killing.

Scene of grief

The attack occurred close to an entrance gate of the park in Rawalpindi where Ms Bhutto had been speaking.

Police confirmed reports Ms Bhutto had been shot in the neck and chest before the gunman blew himself up.

She died at 1816 (1316 GMT), said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of the PPP who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital.

Some supporters at the hospital wept while others broke into anger, throwing stones at cars and breaking windows.

Police in the north-western city of Peshawar are reported to have used tear gas and batons to break up a demonstration by angry Bhutto supporters and there were also protests in other cities.

Mr Sharif said there had been a “serious lapse in security” by the government.

But an old friend of Ms Bhutto, Salman Tassir, told the BBC World Service he did not think criticism should be directed at the government.

“There have been suicide attacks on Gen Musharraf also,” he told Newshour.

“… I mean it is extremism and the fanatics who are to blame.”

Earlier on Thursday, at least four people were killed ahead of an election rally Mr Sharif had been preparing to attend close to Rawalpindi.

Ms Bhutto’s death has plunged the PPP into confusion and raises questions about whether January elections will go ahead as planned, the BBC’s Barbara Plett in Islamabad says.

‘Cowardly act’

The killing was condemned by India, the US, the UK and others.

Father led Pakistan before being executed in 1979
Spent five years in prison
Served as PM from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996
Sacked twice by president on corruption charges
Formed alliance with rival ex-PM Nawaz Sharif in 2006
Ended self-imposed exile by returning to Pakistan in October
Educated at Harvard and Oxford

“The subcontinent has lost an outstanding leader who worked for democracy and reconciliation in her country,” said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

US President George W Bush condemned a “cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy”.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said “extremist groups… [could] not and must not succeed”.

Ms Bhutto returned from self-imposed exile in October after years out of Pakistan where she had faced corruption charges.

Her return was the result of a power-sharing agreement with President Musharraf in which he granted an amnesty that covered the court cases she was facing.

It was only a matter of time before the darker forces… carried out this action
Helen Stynes

But relations with Mr Musharraf soon broke down.

On the day of her arrival, she had led a motor cavalcade through the city of Karachi.

It was hit by a double suicide attack that left some 130 dead.