According to Vatican News, a surprise announcement from Pope Francis came down on Friday. The press corps was getting ready for the Pope's first encyclical when they were called back to a briefing for news that the Pope had signed off on orders to approve canonization - sainthood - of two of his predecessors as Pope: John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.
Pope John XXIII served as head of the Catholic Church from October 1958 to June 1963. He is commonly called "Good Pope John", and his tenure as Pope was marked by significant pieces of progress, including a move toward healing relations between Catholics and Jews, an admission of anti-Semitism in the history of the Church, calling an ecumenical council that reshaped the approach of the Catholic church in the world going forward, visiting prisons, and even a habit of sneaking out at night to walk the streets of Rome.
This Pope kept a journal since the days of his youth, writings that would later cause some sensationalism among certain Catholic groups. Some claimed that he had experienced visions that foretold an apocalyptic return of Christ in New York in the year 2000. They said he had written about these in his journals, but not revealed them to the world at large. The Church denied such claims.
John XXIII died of complication of stomach cancer. He has already been beatified by Pope John Paul II, the first step of canonization - official recognition as a saint. The 50th anniversary of his death was celebrated on July 3, 2013 by Pope Francis.
Pope John Paul II is more familiar to today's audiences. His tenure lasted from October 1978 until April 2005. John Paul II was born Polish, and the first non-Italian Pope since the 1500's. He became Pope when his predecessor, John Paul I, died after on ly 33 days in office. His reputation as Pope stemmed from his perceived humility, having a simplified coronation in which he declined the kissing of his ring by others, hugging them instead.
John Paul II was considered conservative, particularly in matters of sexuality and the ordination of women. He opposed contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. He supported debt forgiveness for Third World countries. He accepted evolution as scientific fact, opposed Apartheid in South Africa, and worked to better relations between the Church and other faiths, including Judaism and Islam.
John Paul II was shot in a a famous assassination attempt in 1981. Thereafter he travelled in a specially constructed vehicle with bulletproof glass, jokingly called The Popemobile.
After his death, John Paul II was popularly promoted for quick canonization by the people. His successor bypassed the usual five-year waiting period and beatified him. Thus are both popes in line for sainthood now. The process is expected to be finalized within the year.