THE late Pope John Paul II has moved closer to "fast-track" sainthood after a Vatican medical committee confirmed his first miracle.
The former Pontiff, who died in 2005, is credited with saving the life of a French nun who recovered overnight from Parkinson's disease.
Sister Marie Simon-Pierre's recovery is attributed to her fellow nuns' prayers for Pope John Paul's intercession, even though he had died of the same disease two months earlier.
He is now expected to be beatified -- the step before canonisation as a saint -- before the end of the year.
One date for his canonisation reportedly under consideration is May 13, the 30th anniversary of the failed assassination attempt against him in St Peter's Square by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman.
John Paul II, who served for 26 years, was acclaimed for his role in ending communism in his native Poland and the Soviet bloc. He became so popular that mourners at his funeral chanted "santo subito", or "sainthood now".
His successor, Benedict XVI, has called him "John Paul the Great", making him only the fourth Pope in history to earn that honour.
The beatification will come in near-record time because Benedict waived the customary five-year waiting period and allowed the investigation into John Paul's life and virtues to begin immediately.
The only other person to receive similar treatment recently was Mother Teresa, who was "fast-tracked" for sainthood by John Paul II. The Albanian-born nun who worked with the poor in Calcutta was beatified in 2003, six years after her death. Achieving sainthood usually takes decades sometimes centuries.
John Paul has already cleared the first hurdle. In December 2009, the Pope signed a decree attesting to his predecessor's "heroic virtues".
Beatification requires proof of a miracle. Evidence of a second miracle is needed for the final step, canonisation, when he can be declared a saint.
The Vatican has received more than 250 reports of miracles attributed to John Paul II, right. Vatican officials are focusing, however, on the case of Sister Marie, who worked in a maternity hospital run by the Order of the Little Sisters of Catholic Motherhood in the French town of Aix-en-Provence.
Sister Marie had Parkinson's disease diagnosed in 2001 and deteriorated to the point where she could walk only with difficulty and her left arm hung limply by her side.
In January 2005 the nun, who was then 44, recovered overnight after her community prayed to the late Pope.
"I was sick and now I am cured," she said in 2007. "I am cured, but it is up to the church to say whether it was a miracle or not."
A Vatican medical commissioner, led by Benedict's own doctor, Patrizio Polisca, is now understood to have verified the recovery as a miracle.
Andrea Tornielli, the respected Vatican expert for the Italian newspaper 'Il Giornale', reported yesterday that the Vatican medical commissioner had sought a third expert opinion because of questions raised by one of the examiners. The case has now cleared the medical commission as well as theologians, and will go before the Congregation of the Causes for Saints later this month.
After that, the prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Angelo Amato, will submit the case to the Pope. (© The Times, London)