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April 27, 2011

Vatican announces May 1 beatification for John Paul II

Pope John Paul II acknowledges the crowd as he arrived for the vigil at the Cherry Creek State Park Mass site in Aurora, Colo., in 1993. (AP file photo)
By MANYA A. BRACHEAR - Chicago Tribune | Posted: Thursday, May 5, 2011 2:47 pm |
CHICAGO ---- Only one miracle stands between Pope John Paul II and sainthood. And that miracle might come from the Chicago area.
A longtime devotee of the late pope, Mary Kern of Lockport, Ill., credits his intercession for opening her eyes and restoring her vision for the past two years. Convinced she has been cured of a neurological condition that repeatedly forced her eyelids closed without warning, she believes her recovery to be miraculous and petitioned the Vatican to prove it.
Meanwhile, Tony Zawila Jr., who has suffered from debilitating back pain since an accident severely injured his spine, prays for guidance and help from John Paul II, who Zawila said showed how to handle suffering throughout his life.
"If I were to be miraculously healed, I would give credit to John Paul 100 percent because I know he's my advocate," said Zawila, 30, of Chicago.
Zawila was among thousands of Catholics who traveled to Rome last week to celebrate the pope's beatification, the penultimate step before sainthood. The designation follows the authentication of one miracle attributed to John Paul II only two months after his death: a French nun suddenly cured of Parkinson's disease.
For many Catholics, John Paul II's beatification honors more than the memory of a beloved religious leader. The pageantry highlights belief in modern miracles ---- works of God that defy explanation and contemporary medicine.
The ceremony also extols Catholic teaching that miracles happen every day and ordinary people can become extraordinary if they follow John Paul II's example and devote their lives to God.
After the ceremony last week, John Paul II is now considered "blessed" and can be publicly venerated in his native Poland. Another miracle is needed to declare him a saint to be venerated around the world. Many believe that second miracle won't take long.
"He's going to become a saint," said Kern, 69. "I just pray that it's in my lifetime."
Kern said she cried for days after John Paul II died on April 2, 2005. Her consolation was the certainty that he already occupied a place in heaven and had a direct line to God, she said.
In her kitchen every morning, she began turning to him when she prayed.
In June 2006, her eyes became severely sensitive to light and her lids began to clamp shut in the middle of whatever she was doing at the time, Kern said. Whether reading, shopping or driving a car, Kern would suddenly lose vision, she said.
"Nothing triggered it," Kern said.
Doctors were baffled. But finally an eyelid specialist diagnosed her with benign essential blepharospasms, a chronic neurological disorder involving involuntary contractions of the muscles around the eyes.
"Before they found what it was, I went through hell. I really did. It was almost like being blind," Kern said.
To paralyze the muscles and temporarily prevent them from closing, doctors treated the symptom with Botox injections every two months. But there was no cure available, Kern said.
Kern said she asked John Paul II in her prayers to heal her eyes. In January 2009, the spasms she had come to expect when the Botox wore off suddenly stopped, she said.
By the time she returned home from a trip to Rome six months later, she realized a miracle might have occurred, Kern said. Even her doctor was in disbelief, she said.
Former Joliet, Ill., Bishop Peter Sartain encouraged her to submit her case to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the part of the Vatican that evaluates candidates for sainthood. In a one-page letter, she told her story.
"I don't know why it was me as opposed to anybody else," she said. "I feel very humble about this gift that's been given to me. I don't think I deserved it anymore than somebody down the block who is very ill. If it's God's will, I accept it graciously. It's all I can say. It's a gift that's been given to me. I will never, ever, ever take it for granted."
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of the 2006 book "My Life with the Saints," said medical miracles that qualify a person for sainthood must be instantaneous. Doctors must provide documentation of the condition before and after an illness disappeared, he said. No remedy can be involved, he added.
Supplications to other saints for the same ailment also disqualify a miracle because otherwise it would be hard to determine which saint was responsible for the cure, Martin said.
If all those specifications are met and the Vatican confirms that God has granted a miracle, it's a testament to that person's holiness, Martin said.
Declaring someone like John Paul II, who was so prominent in the 20th century, to be a saint has powerful potential, Martin said.
"It's not only an occasion to remind people that miracles happen, but also to remind people that saints walk among us," Martin said. "They're flesh and blood human beings that some of us may have even seen in person. That's probably just as important as the belief in miracles."
But precisely because the late pontiff is a contemporary candidate for sainthood, there are lingering questions about his legacy.
Some object to Pope Benedict XVI's decision to expedite John Paul II's sainthood. Others believe John Paul II didn't do enough to stop clergy sexual abuse and impeded the church's mission around the world by denouncing liberation theology.
Sister Wendy Cotter, a Loyola University professor whose most recent book deals with miracles in the New Testament, said she had issues with John Paul II's administration. She said the late pontiff's commitment to fighting communism sometimes got in the way of promising movements in South America, where she served as a missionary.
But when she saw him deliver a message to a crowd in St. Peter's Square in Rome in 2000, she gained a new perspective.
"I've been asking pardon from people for the ways in which the church has failed in love,'" Cotter recalled him telling the crowd.
"It was a beautiful message," she said. "A person can be a saint but be doing things that you disagree with. The thing is, their heart is pure, and their policies are ones that are coming from a holy place."
Martin argues that the speed of the canonization is an example of the church responding to the wishes of the faithful who called for John Paul II's immediate sainthood at his funeral.
Rev. Jason Malave met John Paul II on a trip to Rome as a seminarian. More than 14 years later, he will travel to Rome again to witness the beatification. In retrospect, he now realizes he met a saint on Earth and can't wait to see him declared so in heaven during his lifetime, Malave said.
"I was so young and stupid," said Malave, 40, pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church. "I don't think I realized it at the time ... I was in the presence of somebody was truly a blessed person, a real conduit of God's love and healing."
He hopes the beatification made possible by a miracle in France will remind the faithful of the daily miracle of the Eucharist and God's transforming powers.
"This miracle gives the church an opportunity to talk about the other miracle we celebrate every day," Malave said. "If he's able to change bread and wine, he's certainly able to heal somebody through intercession."
Suffering from severe back pain for the past four years, Zawila identifies with John Paul's suffering after an attempted assassination in 1981 and, in the last years of his life, with Parkinson's disease. He, too, traveled to Rome for the second time last week to be in John Paul's presence. As a teenager, he met the late pontiff in 1997.
He prays that by consciously following John Paul II's example and praying for others instead of for himself, he can bring about the second required miracle sooner.
Zawila knows friends and family pray to John Paul II for his recovery, but he has no expectations of a miracle cure. After all, John Paul II showed grace can come from suffering too.
"I offer my suffering up for his intentions for others that he's praying for," Zawila said. "If it's God's will, I accept it."
Kern said experiencing what she believes to be a miracle has inspired her to listen more faithfully to what God wants and follow.
"I think I've tried to live my life more according to God's will more than I did before," Kern said. "I still pray to John Paul every day. But now I say thank you."

Pope Benedict XVI today approved a miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II, clearing the way for the late pontiff’s beatification, the final step before sainthood. The Vatican announced that the beatification ceremony will take place in Rome on Sunday, May 1.

In the days leading up to his beatification, SQPN invites you to let the world know what John Paul II meant to you personally. What was his impact on your life, your faith, your vocation? Did you ever see him in person? How do you remember him?
SQPN has created a special website to showcase your YouTube testimonies:
  1. Record your (short) video testimony with your webcam, mobile phone or camera
  2. Upload it to YouTube
  3. Send us the link at
Let us honor John Paul II’s legacy by flooding YouTube with our personal video testimonies!
Help spread the word about this John Paul II YouTube initiative by ‘liking’ this article, by blogging about it or by retweeting it!

While today’s announcement is expected to be greeted with joy around the Catholic world, critics have raised questions both about the substantive case for declaring the late pope a saint, including his record on the sexual abuse crisis, and the speed with which it’s occurred.
In a statement released this morning, the Vatican insisted that aside from waiving the normal five-year waiting period to begin a sainthood cause, on account of what it described as the “imposing fame for holiness” enjoyed by John Paul II during his life, in every other respect “the common canonical dispositions” for sainthood causes were “integrally observed.”
Organizers expect that the ceremony will attract the largest crowd in Rome since the events surrounding the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI six years ago, in April 2005.
Formally speaking, beatification entitles a candidate to be referred to as “blessed” but not yet a saint. Traditionally, prayer and devotion to a “blessed” were encouraged only in that person’s local church, but John Paul II’s global appeal means that his beatification will have echoes well beyond his native Poland or the city of Rome.
In the sainthood process, one miracle is required for beatification and another for canonization. (The logic is that the miracles provide proof that the saint is indeed in Heaven and capable of interceding for those who request help in prayer.)
Most of the miracles in sainthood causes are healings, and the Vatican has historically applied three standards to ascertain if a healing qualifies. It must be “complete,” meaning it’s not enough if the person merely feels better or shows some improvement; “instantaneous,” as opposed to a recovery that unfolds over weeks, months, or longer; and it must be “durable,” meaning that the condition does not return. In addition, the healing must be medically and scientifically inexplicable.
The miracle approved today by Benedict XVI concerns a 49-year-old French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease in 2001 and whose order prayed to John Paul II after his death in 2005 for help. Reportedly, after writing the late pope’s name on a piece of paper one night in June 2005, Sister Marie-Simone awoke the next morning cured and was able to resume her work as a maternity nurse.

Earlier this year, media reports implied that the French sister had fallen ill again and that at least one physician questioned the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, suggesting it may have been some other nervous disorder. It would seem that the Vatican resolved those doubts to its satisfaction, however, as the miracle has been approved by both the Vatican’s medical and theological consulters, as well as the cardinals and bishops who make up the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the pope himself.
Momentum to declare John Paul a saint began almost at the moment of his death.
In the run-up to the conclave that elected Benedict XVI to the papacy in April 2005, some cardinals signed a petition requesting that the next pope move immediately to opening a sainthood process for John Paul II. During his funeral Mass, mourners held signs and chanted “Santo Subito!”, meaning “Sainthood Now!”
Shortly after his election, Benedict waived the waiting period but otherwise held that the usual procedure should be followed.
Among church insiders, it’s taken for granted that John Paul II’s cause will not stall at beatification, but that he will fairly quickly also be canonized and declared a saint.
Given John Paul’s popularity and high public profile, news of his beatification is certain to be a major news event. There are, however, also three persistent strains of criticism likely to resurface in coming days.
First, some Catholic liberals who saw John Paul II as overly conservative have suggested that his cause is being fast-tracked in order to score political points in internal Catholic debates. This constituency has wondered, for example, why John Paul II is being beatified so quickly, when the late Pope John XXIII, who launched a period of reform in Catholicism by calling the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), has not yet been canonized following his own beatification in 2000.
Second, some traditional Catholics may object to the apparent haste in John Paul’s cause, arguing that it risks cheapening the canonization process if there’s a perception that a particular candidate is being moved forward too hastily. Perceptions that the usual process has been “short-circuited,” some warn, may suggest that other church teachings and disciplines can be massaged or set aside. They add that according to Catholic theology, the church has no power to “make” a saint – it can simply ratify that a particular figure is already in Heaven. By that logic, there’s no rush, since if John Paul is indeed a saint, formal beatification and canonization won’t add anything.
Third, some victims of clerical sexual abuse and their advocates believe that John Paul’s record on the crisis is not worthy of sainthood, or at least that beatifying him now risks giving offense to victims who associate the late pope with a mixed response to the crisis. Some have argued that the study of John Paul’s life and legacy as part of the sainthood process did not give sufficient weight to his handling of the sexual abuse crisis, such as the case of the late founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, a longtime favorite during John Paul’s papacy who was later disgraced as the Legionaries acknowledged he was guilty of various forms of sexual misconduct.
Yesterday, even before the formal Vatican announcement, the Survivors’  Network of those Abused by Priests issued a statement asserting that the hierarchy is “rubbing more salt into the wounds” of victims with a “hasty drive to confer sainthood on the pontiff under whose reign most of the widely-documented clergy sex crimes and cover ups took place.”
Vatican officials today did not offer any response to substantive criticism of John Paul II, but in past cases when popes have been moved along the sainthood track, they generally insist that beatifying or canonizing a pope is not tantamount to endorsing every policy choice of his pontificate. Instead, they say, it’s a declaration that this pope lived a holy life worthy of emulation, despite whatever failings may have occurred during his lifetime – including his reign as pope.
The date for the beatification ceremony, May 1, has been observed since 2000 as “Divine Mercy Sunday” by the Catholic church. The Divine Mercy feast is associated with a 20th century Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalska, who was a visionary and mystic to whom John Paul II had a strong personal devotion.
Ironically, May 1 is also “May Day,” traditionally associated with the international Socialist movement, which is striking given that the collapse of European Communism is often flagged as John Paul’s central political accomplishment.
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