The Vatican's formal approval of beatification for John XXIII, a popular pontiff who helped modernize the Roman Catholic Church, will be announced Monday. The decree of approval would set the pope farther along the path to sainthood, and the beatification, the last formal step before canonization, could come as early as next year.

John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, which continued under his successor, Paul VI. The council launched modernizing changes for the church, including use of local languages instead of Latin for Mass.

The head of the Vatican division that studies candidates for sainthood, Monsignor Jose Saraiva Martins, told reporters today that the decree of approval for John XXIII would be announced Monday. He also said a decree of beatification approval would be issued the same day for Pope Pius IX, from the 19th century.

Saraiva Martins declined to say when the beatifications would take place or if they might occur together.

John XXIII, who was pope from 1958 to 1963, was beloved by millions of people worldwide for his gentle manner and good humor.

John XXIII also opened a new chapter in the church's relations with Jews.

Pius IX proclaimed papal infallibility on matters of faith and morals. His tenure spanned a time of anti-clerical feeling in Italy, when the peninsula was heading for nationhood in a land where popes for centuries wielded great temporal and political powers.

At one point, Pius fled Rome in disguise, returning the next year after French troops restored papal rule.

The case for John XXIII's beatification was begun at the same time as that for another pope of this century, Pius XII, who has been criticized by Jewish groups and others who say he didn't speak out enough to save Jews from the Holocaust.

The Vatican official was asked why John's case for beatification is being declared ready while that of Pius XII is still in the works.

Pius XII spanned "a very long and extremely tormented period," while John XXIII's tenure was brief and covered a "tranquil" time, Saraiva Martins said, denying that Pius XII's case has been slowed by criticism.

He reiterated the Vatican's position that Pius XII could not have done more without aggravating the risks for Jews.