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Pope John Paul II on fast track to sainthood

Gina Doggett

The late pope John Paul II will move a step closer to sainthood next week when the Vatican receives proof of his miraculous intercession to cure a French nun of Parkinson's disease, diocesan officials said on Tuesday. The "miracle" will qualify the charismatic Polish pope for beatification, the main stepping stone to becoming a saint.

The late pope John Paul II will move a step closer to sainthood next week when the Vatican receives proof of his miraculous intercession to cure a French nun of Parkinson’s disease, diocesan officials said on Tuesday.

The “miracle”, if certified by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, will qualify the charismatic Polish pope for beatification, the main stepping stone to becoming a saint.

Monsignor Slawomir Oder, spearheading the process, said the Rome diocese was “spoiled for choice” among dozens of reported miracle cures attributed to John Paul II, of which about 20 warranted serious consideration.

Monsignor Mauro Parmeggiani, secretary general of the Rome diocese, said “it was not a coincidence” that it chose to focus on the case of the French nun, who suffered from the same malady as John Paul II himself.

Addressing a packed news conference, Parmeggiani said Parkinson’s, a degenerative neurological disease, lends itself well to making a cut-and-dried case.

The nun, so far unnamed, will attend a solemn ceremony next Monday, the second anniversary of the death of John Paul II, along with about 1 000 other nuns from her diocese, when the dossier is handed over to the Vatican’s saint-making body, Parmeggiani said.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski will also attend, he said.

The landmark event will be celebrated at the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, the seat of the vicar of Rome—a position held ex-officio by the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Fast track

The pope’s candidacy for beatification has enjoyed fast-track treatment since his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, waived the usual five-year waiting period, allowing the process to begin in May 2005, the month after his death.

The quickest procedure to date was that for Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was beatified in 2003, six years after her death, after John Paul II himself waived the waiting period—which is intended to prevent sentiments from clouding judgement soon after the death of a beloved candidate.

“The exceptional speed of the conclusion of this first stage responds to popular demand shared by millions of faithful and by cardinals,” said Parmeggiani, adding that Benedict XVI could even decide to skip the beatification stage and proceed straight to sainting his predecessor.

While the process leading to sainthood usually takes decades, if not centuries, mourners at John Paul II’s funeral in April 2005 called for him to be canonised immediately, chanting “Santo Subito!”.

“Speed doesn’t mean a lack of rigour,” Parmeggiani was quick to add, saying the dossier was compiled “in strict observance of church rules”.

Convincing evidence of a miracle—usually a medical cure with no scientific explanation—is essential in the beatification process. A second miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession with God is necessary for full sainthood.

The Rome diocese’s website carries dozens of testimonials from individuals claiming cures at the hands of the pope, but to qualify as a miracle by Vatican standards, the recovery must be sudden, complete and permanent—as well as inexplicable by doctors.

The French nun was reportedly cured of Parkinson’s disease in October 2005 after prayers to John Paul II following his death.

Opposition

The late pope’s beatification process has not all been plain sailing. In December 2005, 11 dissident Catholic theologians insisted in a letter to the Vatican that the “negative” effects of his 27-year pontificate be investigated.

In particular, they cited his rigidly conservative stand on issues such as contraception in a time of Aids, the role of women and sexual abuse scandals within the Church.

And the head of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints said last April that there would be no rush to beatify John Paul II.

“The sainthood of a pope needs much more certainty and depth than that of a simple man of faith or a martyr,” Cardinal Jose Maria Saraiva Martins told the Portuguese daily newspaper Diario de Noticias.

A miracle “has to be ... a phenomenon that is not natural. It has to be proven that the cure would have been impossible through human means,” the Portuguese cardinal said.

John Paul II is himself known as the greatest “saint maker” in the history of the Catholic Church, creating 482 saints.—Sapa-AFP

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