John Paul II's consideration for sainthood has proceeded so quickly that he could be beatified this year and possibly as soon as April, according to a respected Italian Vatican-watcher.
Andrea Tornielli of the Italian daily Il Giornale reported Jan. 4 that a miracle — involving a French nun said to have been cured of Parkinson’s disease — has been approved by a Vatican medical board and a group of theologians.
It now just has to pass two more stages: a vote by members of the Vatican's Congregation for Saints’ Causes (to take place in a few weeks), and a decree signed by Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican has not denied Tornielli's claims but stressed the final decision belongs to the Pope.
A miraculous, unexplained healing following a person's prayer to a deceased Catholic is required for beatification — the penultimate step to canonization. Assuming the late Polish pontiff is beatified and becomes “Blessed John Paul II,” another miracle attributable to his intercession is needed for him to become officially recognised as a saint.
Catholics place great importance on blesseds and saints because they believe they give glory to God and provide role models for the faithful. They also believe these men and women of holiness are confirmed in heaven, meaning that anyone can pray to them to intercede on their behalf.
The presumed miracle in question involves the healing of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a French maternity nurse, who in 2001 was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Parkinson's disease — the same illness that afflicted John Paul II. She and her religious order prayed to the late pontiff in 2005 and one night in June of that year she felt an urge to write, even though the disease had rendered her too weak and exhausted to write legibly.
“It was as if I heard a little voice say to me, ‘Take your pen and write’,” she recalled at a press conference in 2007.
Afterwards, she said: “I jumped straight out of bed, because my body was no longer rigid and painful. I was not the same as before.” She then went straight to chapel where “a great peace” and a “sensation of well-being” enveloped her. “Since then I have not taken any treatment. My life has completely changed — it was like a second birth for me. I was sick and now I am cured [but] it is up to the Church to say whether it was a miracle or not.”
At John Paul II's funeral in 2005, many Italian Catholics chanted, “Santo subito!” (“Saint now!”) Soon afterwards, Benedict XVI put his predecessor on the fast track to beatification by waiving the normal five-year waiting period for the introduction of his sainthood cause. The same exception was made for Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who was beatified in Rome just six years after her death.
In December 2009, John Paul II's cause passed a significant hurdle when Pope Benedict formally decreed that he had lived a life of “heroic” Christian virtue and declared him “Venerable.”
In his Il Giornale article, Tornielli wrote it is “theoretically possible” John Paul II could be beatified as soon as April 2, 2011, the sixth anniversary of his death, or May 18, the date of his birthday.
October 16 is another possibility, the anniversary of his election to the papacy. However, any such ceremony will require a great deal of planning to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims expected, making it doubtful it will take place at least before the autumn.
Another issue to be determined is the venue: Usually a beatification ceremony is held in the subject's home country, presided by the head of the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes, although an exception is likely to be made for John Paul II and it could take place in Rome, presided by Benedict XVI himself.
Not all Catholics are supportive of these developments. Some are uneasy about the speed of the beatification process, while others find it hard to accept that clerical sex abuse crimes were committed under his watch (his defenders stress he knew little about them until the last years of his pontificate, and even when he heard about them, he considered them so heinous as to be almost unbelievable). Other critics blame John Paul for being too liberal or too conservative.
However, for many others, including the current Pope who worked with the Polish pontiff for over a quarter of a century, John Paul II's greatness and personal sanctity were indisputable.
Pope Benedict once remarked it was his predecessor's “closeness to God in prayer, contemplation, and love for truth and beauty” that enabled him to “accompany each of us on our journey, and talk with authority even to those who are far from the Christian faith.”
He and other supporters of the late pontiff will therefore be hoping that it is this quality that is remembered at his beatification, and that many, reminded of his holiness, will be encouraged to follow his example.
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