Father Junipero Serra has cleared the last procedural hurdle to beatification, the second of three steps to sainthood, according to Father Noel F. Moholy, Serra's chief backer in the United States.
The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints decided Tuesday morning that a St. Louis nun was cured of a serious neurological disorder 27 years ago as a result of the intercession of Serra, who is known as "the Apostle of California," said Moholy, a San Francisco priest.
Msgr. Robert Sarno, an American priest serving on the congregation's staff, confirmed in a telephone interview from Rome that the group met Tuesday to consider Serra's "cause," as it is known, but he would not reveal how the 10 cardinals, archbishops and bishops in attendance voted.
The congregation's recommendations, which are almost always accepted, are customarily delivered to Pope John Paul II by Cardinal Pietro Palazzini, the congregation's prefect, within a few days of the action, Sarno said.
Moholy and Father Juan Folguera, who oversees all sainthood candidates of the Franciscan order, met briefly with Palazzini following the morning session.
"It's just hard to realize that we passed the last legal hurdle," Moholy said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Rome. "It's surely a triumph for all who have cooperated in this effort."
In 1985, the Pope declared Serra "venerable," the first of the three steps, a designation that means that the church believes that the 18th-Century Franciscan who founded the California mission system lived "a life of heroic virtue."
To be elevated from venerable to beatified, the congregation must find that at least one miracle took place as a result of a prayerful request for intercession by the individual under consideration. Verification of a second miracle is required to move from beatified to canonized, although the Pope may dispense with the requirement for miracles at any level.
In Serra's case, Sister Mary Boniface Dyrda and fellow members of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Help--at the urging of the order's chaplain--asked Serra to intervene with God to save Dyrda from a life-threatening case of the disease lupus erythematosus, a chronic and debilitating inflammatory disease of the connective tissue.
After the expected papal approval, Moholy said, there is general agreement that the beatification should take place in Rome some time in 1988. Despite widespread speculation over the last year that the Pope might announce Serra's beatification in time to celebrate a Mass in his honor in Monterey on Sept. 17, that did not take place. But the Pope spoke warmly of Serra twice on his U.S. tour, in Phoenix and at Serra's grave at the Carmel Mission.
Last month, Serra's remains were exhumed from a crypt below the Carmel Mission Basilica as part of a process called "canonical recognition," and several bone fragments were removed.