Many gather at vigil for John Paul

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Bela Szandelszky ~ Associated PressA pilgrim looks out of a window Friday in a special train to Rome, in Warsaw, Poland. About 800 pilgrims took a special train to join tens of thousands of Poles attending the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul II. The writing reads "Have no fear. Open the doors to Christ."

ROME -- Thousands of young people flooded an ancient Roman field Saturday for an all-night prayer vigil honoring Pope John Paul II on the eve of his beatification, remembering his teachings, travels and his own suffering.

Pilgrims waving flags from Poland, Spain Germany and Brazil filled the Circus Maximus, which twinkled with the light of thousands of candles as choirs from John Paul's native Poland, the Philippines and Italy sang. They listened as a French nun who suffered from Parkinson's recounted how she was cured after praying to John Paul, who also battled the same disease.

The Vatican has decreed that Sister Marie Simone-Pierre's inexplicable healing was the miracle needed to beatify John Paul, a process that will reach its culmination Sunday during a Mass in St. Peter's Square celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.

Benedict put John Paul on the fast-track for possible sainthood when he dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the beatification process to begin weeks after his April 2, 2005 death. Benedict was responding to chants of "Santo Subito" or "Sainthood Immediately" which erupted during John Paul's funeral.

On Saturday night, a "Santo Subito" banner was emblazoned on the side of the Circus Maximus field, and film of John Paul's final moments and his funeral reminded those gathered of the tearful days many had witnessed six years earlier, when St. Peter's overflowed with some 3 million people paying their last respects to the pope.

"He died a saint," Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul's longtime secretary, told the crowd.

The vigil was to last all night, a so-called "white night" of prayer to be continued in eight churches kept open in the city center before barricades around St. Peter's Square open to pilgrims at 5:30 a.m. local time 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.

"I hope he didn't know about the pedophiles," said Sister Maria Luisa Garcia, a Spanish nun attending the vigil. "If he did, it was an error. But no one is perfect, only God."

At the very least, she said, the church had learned as a result of the scandal, "that a person's dignity, especially a child's, is more important than the church's image."

Video montages shown during the vigil showed various scenes of John Paul's lengthy pontificate, his teachings about marriage and justice. One of the first shown was of his final Easter, when he was unable to speak from his studio window, too hobbled by Parkinson's, and only managed a weak blessing of the crowd.

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