Blessed John Paul II

Pope John Paul II not only established Divine Mercy Sunday; he died on that day. Now he will be beatified on the feast, which is May 1 this year.

After five years of scrupulous investigations, the Vatican has announced that Venerable John Paul II will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on May 1 in St. Peter’s Square.

Benedict XVI issued a decree Jan. 14 recognizing the authenticity of a miracle performed at the intercession of John Paul II, paving the way for the late Pope’s beatification.

In a separate statement, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi announced the ceremony will take place on the same day as Divine Mercy Sunday. The feast day, which is the culmination of the novena to the Divine Mercy of Jesus, was instituted by John Paul II, who died on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2005.

L’Osservatore Romano noted it will be the first time in at least 10 centuries that a pope has elevated to the altars his immediate predecessor.

The decree follows the approval by theologians, medical consultors and members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints that a French nun, Sister Marie Simon Pierre Normand, was miraculously cured of Parkinson’s disease through the intercession of John Paul II.

Sister Marie, a maternity nurse of the Institut des Petites Soeurs des Maternites Catholiques, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease in 2001 — the same illness that afflicted John Paul II. She and her religious order prayed to the late Pope 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 between 9:30 and 9:45pm,” she recalled at a press conference in 2007. “It was as if I heard a little voice say to me: ‘Take your pen and write.’” She said that to her great astonishment, “the writing was very legible.”

Sister Marie went to bed early, but by 4:30am she was awake again, “amazed” she had been able to sleep. “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 the 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,” she explained. “I was sick, and now I am cured.”

In an interview with Vatican Radio Jan. 14, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said, “The decree on the miraculous cure of Sister Marie Simon Pierre Normand, attributed to the intercession of the great Pope a few months after his death, is what will most resound in the Church and the world, owing to the great reputation for sanctity enjoyed by Pope John Paul II.”

A Jan. 14 statement from the congregation recalled that Benedict XVI waived the stipulated five-year waiting period after the death of a Servant of God before a cause can be opened. It noted this provision “was solicited by the great fame of sanctity which Pope John Paul II enjoyed during his life, in his death and after his death.” But it stressed that “in all other ways, the normal canonical dispositions concerning causes of beatification and canonization were observed in full.”

Cardinal Amato affirmed to Vatican Radio that, despite the speed at which the cause has progressed, there were “no corners cut with regard to the rigor and accuracy of procedure. The case was treated like any other, following all the steps prescribed by the law of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints,” he said. “On the contrary ... precisely in order to honor the dignity and the memory of this great Pope, to avoid any doubt and overcome any difficulties, the case was subjected to particularly careful scrutiny.”

John Paul II’s path to beatification bears some resemblance to that of Blessed Mother Teresa, whose cause was also “fast-tracked,” leading to her beatification six years after her death in 2003.

The news of the Jan. 14 decree ends a process that began in 2005, when the principal diocesan investigation was held in Rome. In June 2009, having examined the positio (documents pertaining to the cause), nine of the congregation’s theological consultors expressed their positive judgment concerning the heroic nature of the virtues of the Servant of God.

The following November, the positio was submitted for the judgment of the cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who gave their approval. In December 2009, Benedict XVI authorized the promulgation of the decree on John Paul II’s heroic virtues, declaring him a Venerable Servant of God.

Medical and legal experts were then given documentation to examine in October last year. According to the congregation, the experts, “having studied the depositions and the entire documentation with their customary scrupulousness, expressed their agreement concerning the scientifically inexplicable nature of the healing.” Theological consultors then evaluated the case and “unanimously recognized the unicity, antecedence and choral nature of the invocation made to Servant of God John Paul II, whose intercession was effective in this prodigious healing.”

Vatican organizers now have a relatively short time to prepare for the expected large number of pilgrims who are expected to descend on Rome for the beatification. But work has already begun: In St. Peter’s Basilica, John Paul II’s body is in the process of being relocated from the crypt to a chapel near Michelangelo’s famous Pietà statue, but will not be exhumed or exposed — as happened recently to Blessed Pope John XXIII. The coffin will remain closed and behind a slab of marble with the inscription “Beatus Johannes Paulus II.”

John Paul II’s mortal remains will be placed in a new tomb in the Chapel of St. Sebastian when he is beatified. The chapel was chosen because it is close to the entrance of the basilica and so will be more accessible to the many pilgrims.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.