VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Catholics around the world on Wednesday marked the third anniversary of Pope John Paul’s death and Vatican officials said they were receiving a steady stream of pleas from the faithful convinced he was a saint.
Pope Benedict, John Paul’s successor, presided at a solemn Mass before tens of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square, from the same spot on the steps of the basilica where John Paul’s simple wooden coffin lay three years ago.
“For many days, the Vatican basilica and this very square were really the heart of the world,” Benedict said in his sermon as members in the crowd waved flags of the late pope’s Polish homeland and banners bearing his image.
Benedict did not use the word “saint” in his sermon but said John Paul had “many human and supernatural qualities” and was a mystic endowed with exceptional spiritual sensitivities.
Crowds at John Paul’s funeral on April 8, 2005 chanted “Santo Subito” (“Make him a saint now”).
In May, 2005, Benedict put John Paul on the fast track 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 start.
The first phase of the process for his beatification, the last step before sainthood, is now nearly complete. Church officials say they have found a miracle attributed to the intercession of the late pope with God.
Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a 47-year-old French nun who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s — the same disease that the late Pope had — said it inexplicably disappeared two months after his death after she and her fellow nuns prayed to him.
If the pope approves the miracle then John Paul can be beatified. Another miracle would be required after the beatification in order to move on to canonization.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow who was the late pope’s secretary of nearly 40 years, told reporters his office receives daily letters from people who say they have received “graces” after praying to the late pope.
“Most of them are people who have been cured of cancer or couples who were considered infertile but had children after praying to John Paul,” Dziwisz said. “We get so many of them we don’t even pass them on to Rome anymore”.
Three years is an unusually short time for the completion of the first phase of a sainthood cause, which can usually take decades or, in some cases, hundreds of years.
The evidence includes testimony from hundreds of people and scrutiny of John Paul’s life, spoken words and writings.
Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the Vatican official in charge of the beatification process told reporters he has nearly finished a document of about 2,000 pages long summarizing evidence that John Paul should be made a saint.
Reporting by Philip Pullella