Benedict XVI on John Paul II: I always knew he was a saint

Pope Benedict XVI receives a gift of a stole with the coat of arms of Blessed John Paul IIl during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 2, 2012. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Rome — Pope John Paul II won’t officially become a saint until a special high-profile ceremony next month at the Vatican. But the man who succeeded him says he has seen him in that light for years.

“The reality that John Paul II was a saint became increasingly apparent to me in the years I worked together with him,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in an interview published Friday in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

The Polish pontiff “did not ask for applause and never looked troubled when he was making difficult decisions,” Benedict said. “He acted in accord with his faith and beliefs, and he was willing to endure blows against him. I could and should not imitate him, but I did try to continue his legacy and his mission the best way I could.”

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Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was John Paul’s chief doctrinal officer for nearly a quarter of a century, and presided at John Paul’s funeral in 2005.

Benedict, now 86, was elected pope weeks after John Paul’s death. In February 2013, Benedict became the first pope to retire in 600 years, in part because he did not want to suffer his final years of declining health in the spotlight as John Paul had.

Not long after his election, Benedict waived the traditional five-year waiting period to allow the sainthood cause for his predecessor to begin. John Paul, who reigned from 1978 to 2005, will formally be declared a saint April 27, alongside Pope John XXIII, who was pope from 1958 to 1963.

Benedict’s interview, which was conducted in writing, was the second major Vatican-related scoop this week for Corriere della Sera, which published a lengthy interview with Pope Francis Wednesday. The Benedict interview will be part of a book of reflections on John Paul set to be released by Polish journalist Wlodzimierz Redzioch, a staffer for the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

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