Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be declared saints on April 27, 2014, at a ceremony that might see two living popes honouring two dead ones.
The Vatican on Monday said retired Pope Benedict XVI might join Pope Francis in the saint-making ceremony for their predecessors, noting that there was no reason why Benedict should have to watch the ceremony on TV.
"There's no reason — either doctrinal or institutional — that he couldn't participate in a public ceremony," the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. "I don't have any reason to exclude it."
He noted there was still time before the ceremony and that Benedict was free to decide what to do.
Benedict, who became the first pope in 600 years to retire when he stepped down in February, had said he would spend his final days "hidden from the world" in the Vatican monastery.
But he has taken on a more public profile recently, writing a letter to an Italian atheist that was published last week in Italy's La Repubblica newspaper and appearing with Francis over the summer at a ceremony to unveil a Vatican statue.
Francis had announced in July he would canonize two of the 20th century's most influential popes together, approving a miracle attributed to John Paul's intercession and bending Vatican rules by deciding that John XXIII didn't need a second one to be canonized.
Analysts have said the decision to canonize them together was aimed at unifying the church, since each pope has his admirers and critics. Francis is clearly a fan of both: On the anniversary of John Paul's death this year, Francis prayed at the tombs of both men — an indication that he sees a great personal and spiritual continuity in them.
Both popes are also closely identified with the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that brought the Catholic Church into modern times, an indication that Francis clearly wants to make a statement about the council's role in shaping the church today.
A spokesman for Poland's bishops' conference, the Rev. Jozef Kloch, said the dual canonizations would stress the fact that John Paul II continued the ideas introduced by John XXIII, who called Vatican II.
Originally, the canonization was expected to have taken place Dec. 8. But Polish bishops complained that a December date would make it difficult for Polish pilgrims to come to the Vatican by bus along snowy, icy roads. As a result, the first Sunday after Easter was chosen instead — a feast day established by John Paul himself.
It was on that same feast day — Divine Mercy Sunday — that John Paul was beatified in 2011, drawing 1.5 million pilgrims to Rome.
John Paul made Jorge Mario Bergoglio — the current Pope Francis — a cardinal. Francis' immense popular appeal has also been likened to that of John XXIII, dubbed the "good pope." John XXIII reigned from 1958 to 1963.