Pope John Paul II moves step closer to sainthood
Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed a miracle attributed to his predecessor, John Paul II, paving the way for him to be beatified at a ceremony that could draw up to a million pilgrims to Rome.
Benedict gave the green light for John Paul's beatification, due to take place on May 1, after signing a decree that attributed the recovery of a French nun from Parkinson's disease to a beyond-the-grave intercession by the Polish pontiff.
A second miracle would be needed and have to be verified for him to be made a saint.
The ceremony in St Peter's Basilica, which will be presided over by Benedict, is expected to give the Roman Catholic Church a much-needed boost at a time when it has been discredited by worldwide scandals over paedophile priests.
Lech Walesa, the former leader of the Solidarity trade union who became Poland's president, said John Paul deserved the honour because he had played a key role in the collapse of communism.
"Without him, there would have been no Solidarity in Poland. It was the Polish pope and Solidarity that contributed to the disappearance of communism in Europe in the 20th century," he said.
Benedict put his much-loved predecessor on the fast track to sainthood just weeks after John Paul died in 2005.
A French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, claims she woke up two months after John Paul died to find herself cured of Parkinson's. She maintains that the paralysis in the left side of her body disappeared, her hands no longer shook and she was able to drive a car and walk normally, despite having suffered from the disease for four years. She attributed her recovery to praying to John Paul, who also suffered from Parkinson's.
Doubts were raised over the miracle last year after claims by a Polish newspaper that a doctor who scrutinised the case concluded that Sister Marie may not have been suffering from Parkinson's but from a nervous disorder from which recovery is possible.
Yesterday, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints said Vatican-appointed doctors had "scrupulously" studied the case and determined that there was no scientific explanation for the cure. Karol Wojtyla was the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years when he was elected in 1978. He visited more than 120 countries during his papacy and was hailed for his charisma and common touch that brought fresh vitality to the Vatican.
Critics have pointed out, however, that many of the cases of child abuse by priests occurred during his papacy.
In Poland, plans to turn an ampoule containing John Paul's blood into a holy relic for a new church were condemned by Krzysztof Madal, an influential Jesuit priest, as "medieval". The blood was taken at a clinic in Rome during a tracheotomy operation, carried out shortly before the Pope's death.(© Daily Telegraph, London)