ROME (AP) — Thousands of people, young and old, have flooded Rome's Circus Maximus field for a prayer vigil honoring Pope John Paul II on the eve of his beatification.
The vigil opened at nightfall Saturday with a rendition of an anthem closely identified with the late pope. Candles passed flame to flame made the entire field twinkle as the choir sang.
John Paul's longtime secretary Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz sat with dozens of his fellow cardinals on a stage as video hookups showed the faithful at Marian shrines in Mexico, Tanzania, Poland, Lebanon and Fatima, Portugal, celebrating the milestone on John Paul's path to sainthood.
John Paul is to be beatified Sunday in St. Peter's Square in the fastest beatification in modern times. He died April 2, 2005.
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ROME (AP) — Pope John Paul II's own suffering is being highlighted on the eve of his beatification, with aides testifying about his long battle with Parkinson's disease and a French nun cured of the same ailment taking a starring role in the ceremonies.
The Vatican decreed that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre's inexplicable cure from Parkinson's was the miracle needed to beatify John Paul. Her story will be highlighted at the all-night prayer vigil Saturday night ahead of Sunday's beatification Mass for John Paul.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were converging on Rome for the beatification, and by Saturday St. Peter's Square was abuzz despite a steady rain.
By nightfall, many of the faithful toting backpacks and sleeping bags had begun filling Rome's giant Circus Maximus field for the vigil, during which Simon-Pierre will be joined by John Paul's longtime private secretary and his spokesman in offering testimony about the late pope.
The vigil was expected to last all night, a so-called "white night" of prayer that will continue in eight churches being kept open in the city center before barricades around St. Peter's Square open to pilgrims at 5:30 a.m. (0330GMT) for the 10 a.m. (0800GMT) beatification Mass.
The beatification is taking place despite a steady drumbeat of criticism about the record-fast speed with which John Paul is being honored, and continued outrage about the clerical abuse scandal: Many of the crimes and cover-ups of priests who raped children occurred on John Paul's 27-year watch.
But Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the retired head of the Vatican's saint-making office who presided over the investigation into John Paul's life for the beatification, said Saturday the pope couldn't be held responsible for something he didn't know about.
A video montage to be shown at the Circus Maximus vigil was expected to focus in particular on the final months of John Paul's life, when his own Parkinson's disease made it impossible for him to speak or walk and he was hospitalized for days at a time. He died April 2, 2005.
Rita Megliorin, the head nurse in the intensive care department at Rome's Gemelli hospital, tended to John Paul during his final months. She said during the time John Paul was in her care, she experienced a personal transformation of sorts watching how he dealt with his impending death.
"My approach to God had always been a bit skeptical. I had a vision of a God that punishes you when you make a mistake," she told reporters Friday. "Working in intensive care, I have seen so much suffering."
She said watching John Paul suffer and speaking with him taught her to understand "the more profound aspects of the love of God."
Simon-Pierre suffered from the same ailment as John Paul and has said her condition worsened around the same time as John Paul's death. She says she and her fellow nuns prayed to John Paul on the night of June 2, 2005 and she woke up the next morning feeling her symptoms had disappeared.
"In the chapel before the Eucharist, I heard a voice that said 'you are cured,'" Simon-Pierre said in a recent interview with Catholic broadcaster TV2000. "And I was convinced. I never doubted it. I never put it in discussion. It was for me a certainty" that John Paul had intervened on her behalf.
She said she accepted to undergo the years of testing necessary for the Vatican to confirm her cure was inexplicable because she was convinced John Paul was a saint. The Vatican's complicated saint-making procedures require that a miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession be confirmed before beatification, the first step to possible sainthood.
"I accepted to go through with it to the end," Simon-Pierre said. "I agreed to take all these exams for the church, for the world ... for John Paul so he can be recognized a saint. And I believe soon he will be."
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, John Paul's longtime spokesman and a psychiatrist by training, was recently asked if he could soon be declared a "doctor" of the church, a special title given to certain saints whose writings or teachings have had a significant contribution to Christianity.
Navarro-Valls cited John Paul's own illness and his many writings about the meaning and value of suffering.
"It is of such a richness that I would name him a doctor of medicine," Navarro-Valls said, adding that John Paul must first be canonized and then have a future pope issue the decree.
Navarro-Valls has insisted that John Paul deserves beatification despite the fallout from the clerical abuse scandal, saying the saint-making process isn't a judgment of how John Paul administered the church, but whether he lived a life of Christian virtue.
But victims' groups such as the U.S. Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests have said the speedy beatification was just "rubbing more salt in these wounds" of victims.
And Le Soir, the main French-speaking newspaper in Belgium, charged Saturday that the pace of the beatification contrasted sharply with the "lengthy wait" victims of abuse had to endure for justice. Belgium's Catholic Church has been rocked by new reports of hundreds of victims as well as the resignation of its longest-serving bishop who admitted to abusing two nephews.
"This is the (beatification) of a man obsessed by the rights of unborn children (and the rejection of condoms) but who allowed those same children to be without protection by not addressing ... the question of pedophile priests during his reign," the editorial said.
Cardinal Martins, however, said that the investigation into John Paul's life had taken the clerical abuse scandal into account.
"They discussed it a lot," he said. "But you cannot say he was informed of everything."
"If I'm not informed of something, what guilt do I have?" he asked rhetorically. "This didn't touch at all the holiness of John Paul."
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