Pope puts Polish Cold War Cardinal Wyszynski on path to sainthood

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis has put the late Polish Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, a towering figure of Polish religious freedom who was persecuted by communist authorities during the Cold War, on track for sainthood.

A Vatican statement on Tuesday said Francis has approved a degree recognizing the “heroic virtues” of Wyszynski, who died in 1981. It is the one of the first steps in the process that can lead to sainthood.

When he was named cardinal by Pope Pius XII in 1952 communist authorities did not allow Wyszynski to travel to Rome for the formal investiture until 1957.

He was placed under house arrest from 1953 to 1956 for refusing to punish priests who opposed the government.

A theological conservative, Wyszynski was said to have played a key role in the conclave that elected Pope John Paul II, a fellow Pole, in 1978.

The next step towards eventual sainthood in Beatification, which requires that a miracle be attributed to Wyszynski.

The Church teaches that God performs miracles but that saints who are believed to be with God in heaven intercede on behalf of people who pray to them.

A miracle is usually the medically inexplicable healing of someone.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky