ROME — Soon after he died two years ago, Pope John Paul II was practically declared a saint by vox populi. Banners demanding "Santo Subito!" (Sainthood Now!) crowned the crowds of people who filled St. Peter's Square to mourn the pontiff.
Today, on the second anniversary of his death, John Paul will take a significant step closer to sainthood.
Church officials will announce the conclusion of a detailed investigation of the Polish prelate's life, and the Vatican will begin evaluating the case of a French nun who said she was miraculously healed after praying to John Paul.
The nun, Marie Simon-Pierre, is expected to be among thousands of pilgrims who will attend elaborate ceremonies today, including a solemn Mass at St. Peter's to mark John Paul's passing.
She says her Parkinson's disease, the same illness that afflicted John Paul, disappeared two months after he died.
If a church committee agrees that the cure was a miracle attributed to intercession before God by John Paul, then the late pope is eligible to be beatified, the step preceding sainthood.
A second miracle is required for sainthood.
The sanctity of John Paul "is indisputable," said Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of Rome who, after the pontiff's funeral, had presented current Pope Benedict XVI with a letter from several cardinals urging a swift canonization.
Benedict waived the five-year waiting period normally required from the time of a person's death before sainthood campaigns can be launched, and John Paul's case is proceeding with record speed.
Some Roman Catholics, convinced of the late pope's holiness, want the process to be hastened further, suggesting that John Paul bypass beatification and be canonized directly.
Simon-Pierre, the nun, works in a maternity ward in Paris. Her identity had not been made public until she held a news conference Friday to tell her story.
"I was ill and now I am healed," she said.
For four years, she said, she had suffered the tremors, muscle rigidity and other symptoms of the degenerative nerve disease. She had trouble walking and could no longer write legibly.
Suddenly, in June 2005, after she and the sisters in her order prayed to the late John Paul, her disease was gone, she said.
She arose, took up a pen and began writing about her experience, stunned at her recovery, the 46-year-old nun said.
Church officials said a psychiatrist and three neurologists examined the apparent reversal of the disease and found no medical explanation.
"My healing was the work of God through the intercession of John Paul," she said at the news conference in the French city of Aix-en-Provence.
She spoke in a clear, if emotional, voice, and appeared to walk with ease.
The testimony and records connected to Simon-Pierre's case will be handed over to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints today, along with thousands of other documents, for review and judgment. The congregation will consult with medical and theological experts before declaring the cure a miracle. Benedict makes the final call on the beatification.
Father Slawomir Oder, the Polish priest in charge of the investigation of John Paul's suitability for sainthood, said he was impressed by the nun's story and chose it for pragmatic reasons: It was easy to document, and the fact that the disease in question had afflicted John Paul as well gave it special resonance.
But Oder said he has also received dozens of reports of possible other miraculous cures attributed to John Paul, including unexplained recoveries from cancer and the case of an Italian woman who gave birth to a healthy baby after losing her amniotic fluid and being told by doctors the baby would die.
A second miracle after beatification will have to be documented for John Paul to be declared a saint, but Oder indicated there were likely to be many candidates.
"I've been a very lucky postulator," Oder said of his role in putting together the dossier, "because there has been an embarrassment of riches, so many beautiful cases."