Pope John Paul II
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict has approved a miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II's intercession, clearing the way for the late pope's beatification on May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday.
Pope Benedict's action Jan. 14 followed more than five years of investigation into the life and writings of the Polish pontiff, who died in April 2005 after more than 26 years as pope.
The Vatican said it took special care with verification of the miracle, the spontaneous cure of a French nun from Parkinson's disease - the same illness that afflicted Pope John Paul in his final years.
Three separate Vatican panels approved the miracle, including medical and theological experts, before Pope Benedict signed the official decree.
"There were no concessions given here in procedural severity and thoroughness," said Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Congregation for Saints' Causes. On the contrary, he said, Pope John Paul's cause was subject to "particularly careful scrutiny, to remove any doubt."
With beatification, Pope John Paul will be declared "blessed" and thus worthy of restricted liturgical honour. Another miracle is needed for canonization, by which the Church declares a person to be a saint and worthy of universal veneration.
The Vatican said it would begin looking at logistical arrangements for the massive crowds expected for the beatification liturgy, which will be celebrated by Pope Benedict at the Vatican.
Divine Mercy Sunday had special significance for Pope John Paul, who made it a Church-wide feast day to be celebrated a week after Easter. The pope died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005.
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said Pope John Paul would be beatified primarily for the spiritual gifts of faith, hope and charity that were the source of his papal activity.
The world witnessed that spirituality when the pope prayed, when he spent time with the sick and suffering, in his visits to the impoverished countries of the world and in his own illness "lived out in faith, before God and all of us," Lombardi said.
Brigida Jones, a 26-year-old Australian Catholic visiting the Vatican, echoed the spokesman's sentiments: "I think he did so much while he was alive, and you'd just see him on television and get this sense of peace - obviously he was holy."
In 2005, Pope Benedict set Pope John Paul on the fast track to beatification by waiving the normal five-year waiting period for the introduction of his sainthood cause.
That seemed to respond to the "Santo subito!" ("Sainthood now!") banners that were held aloft at Pope John Paul's funeral.
The reported cure of the French nun was carefully investigated by the Vatican's medical experts over the last year after questions were raised about the original diagnosis.
Vatican sources said that, in the end, the experts were satisfied that it was Parkinson's, and that there was no scientific explanation for the cure.
In 2007, the nun, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, spoke to reporters about her experience.
A member of the Little Sisters of the Catholic Motherhood, she was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2001 at the age of 40.
When the pope died in 2005, and as Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre's condition began to worsen, all the members of her congregation in France and in Senegal began praying to Pope John Paul to intervene with God to heal her.
By June 2, two months after the pope died, she was struggling to write, to walk and to function normally. But she said she went to bed that night and woke up early the next morning feeling completely different.
"I was sure I was healed," she said. Not long afterward, she had recovered enough to return to work in Paris at a maternity hospital run by her order.
Pope John Paul's death and funeral brought millions of people to Rome, and Vatican officials said they would begin working with the City of Rome in logistical planning for the beatification.