Pope John Paul II will be beatified on May 1.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints has released a decree, formally approved by Pope Benedict XVI, confirming the authenticity of a miracle through the intercession of the late Polish Pontiff. The approval of that miracle fulfilled the final requirement for his beatification.
The Vatican immediately announced that the beatification ceremony will be held on May 1, the feast of Divine Mercy, in Rome. The ceremony is expected to draw a huge throng to St. Peter’s Square.
The beatification will take place just a bit more than 6 years after the death of John Paul II. Ordinarily the Vatican imposes a 5-year waiting period after death before even opening the investigation that can lead to beatification. But Pope Benedict XVI waived that requirement for his predecessor. During the funeral of John Paul II in April 2005, thousands of people in the congregation had joined in the chant: “Santo subito!” calling for quick action to raise the beloved Pontiff to the altars.
The miracle that was formally announced on January 14 was the cure of a French nun, Sister Marie Simon Pierre, from Parkinson’s disease. The sudden cure came on June 3, 2005—just a few weeks after the Pope’s death—after the nun’s superior had instructed her to seek the intercession of the late Pontiff. Teams of theologians and medical experts had examined the case thoroughly and testified that the cure was miraculous.
Today’s announcement by the Vatican was heavily anticipated. Earlier in the week Italy’s top Vatican-watching journalist, Andrea Tornielli, had broken the story that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had certified the miracle, and only the Pope’s approval was required. A day earlier, Italian reporters had noticed that Vatican workers were preparing to move the tomb of John Paul II from its current location in the crypt of St. Peter’s basilica to a more prominent location in a chapel near the main door.
The enormous worldwide popularity of Pope John Paul II had produced a groundswell of support for his beatification. But as rumors circulated about the impending Vatican announcement, some critics questioned whether the investigation had been rushed. Cardinal Angelo Amato, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, dismissed those concerns in a talk with Vatican Radio.
The “fast-track” status of the case also influenced the scheduling of the beatification ceremony. Ordinarily the Vatican allows some time to elapse between the certification of a miracle, which clears the way for beatification, and the announcement of a date for the beatification ceremony. In this case the two announcements were made simultaneously, reflecting the determination of Vatican officials to leave adequate time for preparations for the event. The formal decree issued by the Vatican observed that: “John Paul II’s pontificate was an eloquent and clear sign, not only for Catholics, but also for world public opinion, for people of all color and creed.” The decree noted the chants of “Santo subito,” and concluded: “The faithful have felt, have experienced that he is ‘God’s man.’”
The Vatican decree drew special attention to several facets of the life of John Paul II. Some involved his personal interior life: his intense but simple prayer, his deep Marian devotion. Others included his contributions to the life of the Church: his influence during the Second Vatican Council, his involvement with youth and especially with World Youth Day, and his extraordinary work for the Jubilee Year 2000.
Oddly, the Vatican decree does not mention the pivotal role that John Paul II played in the rise of the Solidarity movement and the eventual collapse of the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. Yet the decree does mention the “peace offensive” that the Pontiff undertook in 2002 in a desperate effort to stave off the war in Iraq.
The decree also makes special note of John Paul II’s decision to establish a new feast on the Church’s liturgical calendar: the feast of Divine Mercy, a devotion popularized by the Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalska. This year the feast of Divine Mercy will fall on May 1, making it a suitable occasion for the late Pope’s beatification.