- Associated Press - Friday, January 14, 2011

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The pope on Friday signed off on the miracle needed to beatify Pope John Paul II, and set May 1 as the date to honor one of the most beloved popes of all times as a model of saintliness for the church.

Pope Benedict XVI said in a decree that a French nun’s recovery from Parkinson’s disease was miraculous, the last step needed for beatification. A second miracle is needed for the Polish-born John Paul to be made a saint.

The May 1 ceremony, which Benedict himself will celebrate, is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to Rome — a major morale boost for a church reeling from a wave of violence against Christians and fallout from the clerical sex abuse scandal.

“This is a huge and important cause of joy,” Warsaw Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz told reporters at his residence in the Polish capital.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul’s longtime secretary and friend, expressed “huge thanks” to Benedict for the decree. “We are happy today,” he said.

Benedict put John Paul on the fast track to possible sainthood just weeks after he died in 2005, responding to the chants of “Santo Subito!” or “Sainthood immediately!” that erupted during his funeral.

Benedict waived the typical five-year waiting period before the process could begin, but he insisted that the investigation into John Paul’s life be thorough so as to not leave any doubts about his virtues.

John Paul’s beatification will nevertheless be the fastest on record, coming just over six years after his death and beating out Mother Teresa’s then-record beatification in 2003 by a few days.

The last remaining hurdle in John Paul’s case concerned the approval by Vatican-appointed panels of doctors and theologians, cardinals and bishops that the cure of French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, was a miracle due to the intercession of the late pope.

The nun has said she felt reborn when she woke up two months after John Paul died, cured of the disease that had made walking, writing and driving a car nearly impossible. She and her fellow sisters of the Congregation of Little Sisters of Catholic Maternity Wards had prayed to John Paul, who also suffered from Parkinson’s.

On Friday, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre said John Paul was and continues to be an inspiration to her because of his defense of the unborn and because they both had Parkinson’s.

John Paul “hasn’t left me. He won’t leave me until the end of my life,” she told French Catholic TV station KTO and Italy’s state-run RAI television.

Wearing a white habit and wire-rimmed glasses, she appeared in good health and showed no signs of tremors or slurred speech which are common symptoms of Parkinson’s.

John Paul II did everything he could for life, to defend life,” she said. “He was very close to the smallest and weakest. How many times did we see him approach a handicapped person, a sick person?”

Last year, there were some questions about whether the nun’s original diagnosis was correct. But in a statement Friday, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints said Vatican-appointed doctors had “scrupulously” studied the case and determined that her cure had no scientific explanation.

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