In this file photo taken in 1964, Pope Paul VI salutes a crowd estimated at 200 000 as he is carried on portable throne through St Peter's Square in Vatican City. Picture: Jim Pringle

Vatican City -

Pope Francis has approved a miracle credited to the intercession of Paul VI and set the date for the late pontiff's beatification for October 19, the Vatican said Saturday.

Francis had authorised the beatification, the last formal step before possible sainthood, a day earlier, the Vatican said.

Last month, Francis formally proclaimed as saints two other predecessors: John XXIII and John Paul II.

Paul VI, who reigned as pontiff from 1963-1978, made landmark progress in improving Catholics' relationship with other Christians. His papacy is also remembered by his decision, after years of study, to ban contraception for Catholics, in a 1968 encyclical, “Humanae Vitae” (“of human life”).

That teaching was widely disregarded. The issue is among many expected to get scrutiny in a special meeting of bishops called at the Vatican this fall to discuss family life. The beatification ceremony would come at the end of the gathering.

One miracle is required for beatification. The Vatican, as is its custom, didn't give details about the miracle which, according to the Holy See's detailed criteria, must be certified by doctors as having no medical explanation.

Italian media have reported that the miracle was that of a baby born healthy in California despite the diagnoses in 2001 of the rupture of the fetal bladder and absence of amniotic liquid. The mother reportedly ignored advice to abort the child and prayed for Paul VI's intercession at the urging of a nun. The child was born a month prematurely and is now a healthy adolescent, the news reports said.

The 1968 encyclical also reinforced the church's ban on abortion.

Paul VI disposed of many of the ornate trappings of the papacy, a forerunner of Francis' disdain for fanciness at the Vatican.

The late pontiff continued John XXIII's groundbreaking move to modernise the church by shepherding to its conclusion the Second Vatican Council. - Sapa-AP