(Pilgrims stand in front of a giant image of Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican April 29, 2011/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Is Pope John Paul II approaching his halo too fast? As the Vatican prepares to elevate the late pontiff one step closer to sainthood this Sunday, the Catholic world is caught up with beatification fever.

Rome is festooned with posters of the former pope on buses and lamp posts as the city where he was bishop for 27 years awaits one of the largest crowds since his funeral in 2005, when millions came to pay tribute. At least several hundred thousand people are expected at the mass in St Peter’s Square where his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, will pronounce a Latin formula declaring one of the most popular popes in history a “blessed” of the Church.

The frenetic preparations in Rome, in John Paul’s native Poland and around the world, have matched the buildup for Friday’s royal wedding in London and drowned out the voices of a minority of Catholics asking “Why the rush?.”

The answer depends on the definition of sainthood. “The official judgment of the church is catching up with the spontaneous judgment of the people of the church,” said American theologian and papal biographer George Weigel. “What’s happening is the acknowledgement of a Christian life nobly lived and one from which we can all take inspiration,” Weigel, who knew the pope, told Reuters.