March 18, 2006

John Paul the miracle worker?

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - Last year, Monsignor Slawomir Oder opened
one of the many letters he receives from people who think Pope
John Paul should be declared a saint.

He felt a strange sensation. This letter was different.

In it, a French nun said she had been suffering from a
precocious form of Parkinson's disease but that the symptoms
disappeared after she prayed to John Paul for nine days.

"The letter was very simple and delicate, not triumphal,"
Oder recalled in his cluttered office in the Basilica of St.
John Lateran as the Vatican prepares to commemorate the first
anniversary of John Paul's death on April 2.

"The way she described what happened was humble, not
demanding. She did not say 'I have been cured by a miracle."'

The softly spoken 46-year-old Oder, who is in charge of
promoting the sainthood case for the late Pope for the diocese
of Rome, went to France to see the nun and talk to her doctors.

"I am encouraged because from the medical charts and
medical history, we so far have not found a human explanation,"
he said.

John Paul suffered from Parkinson's disease in his last
decade. He trembled violently and could not pronounce his words
or control his facial muscles. In the end, his throat was so
ravaged that he needed tubes for air and food.

An initial probe by doctors and Catholic Church
investigators did not find a rational medical explanation for
the cure. Investigators will now start a more formal and
detailed inquiry of the suspected miracle cure.


Last May, Pope Benedict put his predecessor on the fast
track to sainthood by dispensing with Church rules that
normally impose a five-year waiting period after a candidate's
death before the procedure that leads to sainthood can even

That same month, Rome archdiocese published an edict asking
Catholics to come forward with evidence "in favor or against"
John Paul's reputation of holiness.

One proven miracle is required after John Paul's death for
beatification -- the first step to sainthood. The miracle must
be the result of prayers asking the dead Pope to intercede with
God. Another would be necessary for full sainthood.

The French nun, whom Oder declined to identify, worked to
help unwed mothers keep their babies rather than abort.

"I see this as a sign of God's creativity because there are
two aspects that are particularly linked to John Paul," he

"First, she had the same illness we all saw in him in his
last years. Second, she was dedicated to helping life in its
early stages and we all know how dear defending life from the
moment of conception was to John Paul," he said.

Many Catholics are convinced of John Paul's holiness.
Crowds at his funeral chanted "Santo Subito" ("Make him a saint

Oder, who is charged with compiling the evidence into a
long report for the Vatican, has received more than 3,000
e-mails or letters from every continent, most from people
professing to have been helped after praying to the Pope.


Others say they need help with a problem. Still others ask
for a relic of the late Pope and usually get a tiny thread of
his white cassock glued to a card with his picture and marked
"ex indumentis," Latin for "from the clothing."

Twice as many letters, around 800, came from
Spanish-speaking countries as from the pope's native Poland.

"There has been incredible interest ... I am always feeling
people breathing down my back asking 'when is everything going
to be ready?' I don't see this as pressure but rather as a sign
of affection so many people had for John Paul," Oder said.

Pope Benedict will travel to Poland in May and while many
there would like to see swift movement toward beatification,
Oder said there was no pressure from the Vatican.

"We are not going to allow ourselves any shortcuts. We are
doing this with the utmost seriousness," he said.

Oder will send documentation on John Paul's life and his
"reputation for holiness" to the Vatican's Congregation for the
Causes of Saints.

If the Congregation approves the cause -- seen as certain
-- Pope Benedict will issue a decree recognizing his
predecessor's "heroic virtues." If a miracle is definitively
recognized, John Paul will then move on to beatification.

In past centuries, the saint-making procedure was often
long and expensive, but modern communications have made it

Many Catholics believe John Paul's life of suffering and
service was clear to all, and many who knew or worked with him
are alive. This will speed things up significantly.

Oder said he was also processing testimony from people who
believed John Paul should not be made a saint.

In December, 11 dissident theologians said they opposed
sainthood, saying the Church should also consider the "negative
evaluation" liberal critics have of his 27-year papacy.

"It would be unthinkable that someone with such a great,
rich, varied background, who had so much impact on history,
would not prompt criticism," Oder said, adding those who wrote
to him to oppose sainthood accounted for less than one

"This process is something that has to be done in all
seriousness, not only to demonstrate his holiness ... but above
all for history, to leave behind all the richness of this man
and all his contribution to the life of the Church."