As the world looks toward the canonization of former Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, some may wondered what it takes to be named a saint.

Some even trip over the definition of saint.

The first definition most reference works give for saint is “a holy person.”

Saint comes from the Latin word “sanctus,” which means holy one. In the Bible’s New Testament, members of the Christian church were called saints.

But like many words, saint has gained shades of meanings.

Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance ( gives three definitions of saint in its glossary:

“In Roman Catholicism, a person of great spirituality who has died, is responsible for at least three miracles and who has been elevated to the sainthood by the church.”

“In Protestantism, a saint is one of the ancient leaders of the church, like St. Peter and St. Paul.”

“In Evangelical Christianity, all saved Christians are saints.”

Many people use the word to indicate a person recognized for special religious faith and works — either formally, as in the Roman Catholic list of saints, or informally, as a way to recognize a person who performs beyond the average.

Becoming a saint

During the late 1500s to mid-1600s, the Catholic Church began to establish a formal procedure of canonization. That procedure, with only a few changes, is still used. The road to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church is not easy. The Vatican employs an exhaustive process that can take decades to centuries.

1. The local bishop reviews the candidate’s life for heroic virtue and adherence to the dictates of the Roman Catholic Church. If satisfied, the bishop sends the candidate’s name to the Vatican.

2. At the Vatican, a panel of theologians and the cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints review the candidate’s life and work.

3. If approved by both panels, the pope can then proclaim the candidate “Venerable,” which is considered an official role model for Catholics to emulate.

4. Next is beatification. Usually, evidence of a miracle is required, but the death of a candidate in the name of God may be accepted in certain cases. The candidate is venerated, or respected, on a local level.

5. Then the candidate can be considered for sainthood. Another proven miracle must have occurred in the candidate’s name before he or she can be canonized and made an official saint. As a saint, he or she is venerated by the Church.

At any point, the pope can simply waive the rules. For example, Pope John Paul II beatified Kateri Tekakwitha in 1980, even though there was no miracle attributed to her at the time. She was canonized in 2012.

Sources: Webster’s New World College Dictionary;;; Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Elwell; Dictionary of Biblical Literacy, Cecil B. Murphey; The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan; Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary