Pope Francis will canonize two of his most influential predecessors, John Paul II and John XXIII, on the same day next spring, a highly unusual move that was taken as a gesture designed to promote unity within the Roman ­Catholic Church.

The two popes, who have disparate followings among reformers and conservatives within the church, will be declared saints April 27, Francis said Monday during a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican.

Each achieved considerable international stature: John Paul for encouraging the fall of communism in his native Poland and across Eastern Europe, and John for assembling the liberalizing Second Vatican Council, which ran from 1962 to 1965.

“To celebrate them together is a sign of appreciation of the holiness of two popes who paid witness to our time,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said during a news conference on Monday.

The pope announced in July that he would canonize the two men but did not set a date, and there were initial indications that he would act this year. Lombardi said April 27, the first Sunday after Easter, would be “a good date for pilgrims who might already be in Rome.”

Candidates for sainthood usually have two miracles attributed to them. But Francis approved the canonization of John with only one — the curing of an ailing woman — which Lombardi said in July was a result of eagerness to honor “the great pope of the Second Vatican Council.”

On Monday, he said the canonization should be seen “in the context of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and the universally heartfelt fame that surrounds John XXIII.” He said that while John was the council’s initiator, John Paul was “its great implementer.”

Earlier, Francis described John Paul as a “great visionary, the new St. Paul.”

Lombardi said that Benedict, the pope emeritus, might join Francis in the canonization ceremony. Benedict stepped down in February and has been living in self-imposed isolation in a monastery inside the Vatican walls.

In Poland, there was great excitement over the news.

The upcoming sanctification of Karol Wojtyla is a “great day for Poland,” said Jozef Klock, spokesman of the Catholic bishops conference in Poland. “The best way to prepare is to turn the words [of John Paul II] into action,” he said during a news conference in Warsaw.

new york times