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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Curios line stairway to heaven

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Images of St John Paul II and St John XXIII are on sale near the Vatican. Photo / AP
Images of St John Paul II and St John XXIII are on sale near the Vatican. Photo / AP

It was a total Pope-fest. Two living pontiffs - the incumbent and his immediate predecessor - presided at the canonisation of two deceased vicars of Christ. Popes John XXIII and John Paul II were declared to be saints last week.

Probably wisely, most reports did not go into any detail about what a saint is. The word simply means holy, but when the church declares someone to be a saint they are confirming that the person is in heaven.

In theory, there are billions of saints, good-living people who died in a state of grace and have joined the choir invisible. It's just that we don't know for sure in those cases. We don't have any proof.

So how do we know the official saints are in this state? In brief: because someone on Earth has prayed to them and asked them to ask God to fix something - cure a terminal illness, that sort of thing.

You used to have to perform two miracles from beyond the grave to qualify for sainthood and wait five years before the process even began, but you know how it is these days - rush, rush, rush - so both those requirements were dispensed with for the sainted popes.

Of course, everything has its price and although you still can't buy your way into heaven, it turns out you can put a price on sainthood. Cardinal Angelo Amato issued a "reference price list" detailing what you can expect to pay for the various services involved in confirming someone has hit heaven: research into the potential saint's life, consultants' fees, exhumation and reburial in some cases, production of a colour booklet for those attending the canonisation - all up, you're looking at about 50,000 ($80,000).

A key figure on the path to sainthood is Reverend Marc Lindeijer, the Vatican's vice postulator of Jesuit sainthood causes. He's the miracle checker.

As well as checking the candidates' ability to get God to do chores on Earth, he also measures their "lasting fame", the degree to which they are venerated. Lindeijer told CBS News he has his own method.

He goes out to St Peter's Square and sees who is selling well in the souvenir stalls. Pope Benedict XVI for instance is not moving much product at all, so things don't look too good for when he finally shuffles off. John Paul II, however, has been a steady seller since his demise.

Who would have thought that whether or not someone is in heaven can be determined by counting fridge magnets?

People are welcome to believe whatever they like, of course, but in light of the reality behind canonisation, perhaps it's time the media stopped treating such events as anything more than quaint, if expensive, superstitions.

There may be sound reasons not to preserve the Auckland Civic Administration Building, under threat of demolition. But one reason being thrown about should be dispensed with immediately. This is the argument that the building has no heritage value because it is only 48 years old. Heritage has nothing to do with age and everything to do with value. Any heritage monument, from Stonehenge to the Eiffel Tower, was 48 years old at some point in its life. It's letting things get older than this that Aucklanders seem to struggle with.

What more suitable candidate to replace Bill English could you find than a 24-year-old son of Southland who has earned a living spruiking tobacco? This government is all for addictions - from ensuring alcohol is widely available to increasing opportunities for gambling or turning a blind eye to the menace of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.

- Herald on Sunday

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