John Paul's Suffering Highlighted in Beatification

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ROME (AP) - Pope John Paul II's own suffering is being highlighted in his beatification, with aides testifying about his long battle with Parkinson's disease and a French nun cured of the same ailment taking a starring role in the beatification ceremonies.

The Vatican decreed that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre's inexplicable cure from Parkinson's was the miracle needed to beatify John Paul. Her story will be highlighted at the all-night prayer vigil Saturday night ahead of Sunday's beatification Mass for John Paul.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were converging on Rome for the beatification, and by Saturday St. Peter's Square was abuzz with excitement despite steady rain. Many were expected to attend the vigil in Rome's giant Circus Maximus field, where Simon-Pierre will be joined by John Paul's longtime private secretary and his spokesman in offering testimony about the late pope.

The vigil was expected to last all night, a so-called "white night" of prayer that will continue in eight churches being kept open before barricades around St. Peter's Square will open to pilgrims at 5:30 a.m. for the 10 a.m. beatification Mass.

The beatification is taking place despite a steady drumbeat of criticism about the record-fast speed with which John Paul is being honored, and continued outrage about the clerical abuse scandal: Many of the crimes and cover-ups of priests who raped children occurred on John Paul's 27-year watch.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the retired head of the Vatican's saint-making office who presided over the investigation into John Paul's life for the beatification, said Saturday the pope couldn't be held responsible for something he didn't know about.

"The investigation took all this into account, they discussed it a lot," he said. "But you cannot say he was informed of everything."

"If I'm not informed of something, what guilt do I have?" he asked rhetorically. "This didn't touch at all the holiness of John Paul."

A video montage to be shown at the Circus Maximus vigil was expected to focus in particular on the final months of John Paul's life, when his own Parkinson's disease made it impossible for him to speak or walk and he was hospitalized for days at a time. He died April 2, 2005.

Rita Megliorin, the head nurse in the intensive care department at Rome's Gemelli hospital, tended to John Paul during his final months. She said during the time John Paul was in her care, she experienced a personal transformation of sorts watching how he dealt with his impending death.

"My approach to God had always been a bit skeptical. I had a vision of a God that punishes you when you make a mistake," she told reporters Friday. "Working in intensive care, I have seen so much suffering."

She said watching John Paul suffer and speaking with him taught her to understand "the more profound aspects of the love of God."

Simon-Pierre suffered from the same ailment as John Paul and has said her condition worsened around the same time as John Paul's death. She says she and her fellow nuns prayed to John Paul on the night of June 2, 2005 and she woke up the next morning feeling her symptoms had disappeared.

"In the chapel before the Eucharist, I heard a voice that said 'you are cured,"' Simon-Pierre said in a recent interview with Catholic broadcaster TV2000. "And I was convinced. I never doubted it. I never put it in discussion. It was for me a certainty" that John Paul had intervened on her behalf.

She said she accepted to undergo the years of testing necessary for the Vatican to confirm her cure was inexplicable because she was convinced John Paul was a saint. The Vatican's complicated saint-making procedures require that a miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession be confirmed before beatification, the first step to possible sainthood.

"I accepted to go through with it to the end," Simon-Pierre said. "I agreed to take all these exams for the church, for the world ... for John Paul so he can be recognized a saint. And I believe soon he will be."

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, John Paul's longtime spokesman and a psychiatrist by training, was recently asked if he could soon be declared a "doctor" of the church, a special title given to certain saints whose writings or teachings have had a significant contribution to Christianity.

Navarro-Valls cited John Paul's own illness and his many writings about the meaning and value of suffering.

"It is of such a richness that I would name him a doctor of medicine," Navarro-Valls said, adding that John Paul must first be canonized and then have a future pope issue the decree.