John Paul II's beatification approved for May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday

The much-anticipated beatification of Pope John Paul II will take place on May 1, the Sunday after Easter, the Vatican announced.

The healing of a French nun with Parkinson's disease is to go down in history as the miracle that made John Paul II a "blessed." The title is given to martyrs and other Christians to whom a miracle has been officially attributed, thus bringing them one step closer to sainthood.

Pope Benedict XVI approved the decree for the beatification of his predecessor during a Jan. 14 audience with the head of the Vatican department for saints' causes, Cardinal Angelo Amato.

John Paul II's cause arrived in the current's Pope's hands for approval after doctors studied the miraculous healing of Sister Marie Simon Pierre Normand and concluded it was "scientifically unexplainable." Following approval from theologians and Church officials, Pope Benedict promulgated the decree with his signature.

The atmosphere was electric at noon in the the Holy See's Press Office with journalists from all over the world expecting news of the beatification decree.

During the rather cheerful press briefing, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi explained some of the details of the process and revealed preliminary plans for the ceremony.

In what some have called "record time," the Pope's cause was seemingly expedited through the trials to prove his sainthood. Fr. Lombardi admitted that the cause for the Pope was "facilitated" because of his "great fame of sanctity."

At Pope Benedict's bidding, norms stipulating that saints' causes begin five years after the individual's death were waived. His cause, as those of others Popes and special cases, also leapfrogged others in what is usually a "first in, first examined" process.

This being the case, no corners were cut, the Vatican spokesman assured. He insisted that "each of the legislative steps of the inquiry have been fulfilled, they have been taken with care. They have not been facilitated, rather the cause has proceeded with great attention and fidelity."

Pope John Paul II’s cause is extraordinary in the history of the Church both for the speed with which it was advanced to beatification and because it will be his immediate successor to preside over the ceremony.

The Pope's cause was brought to beatification in just over five years, rivaling that of his good friend Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta for its speed.

His beatification will be celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square on May 1, the first Sunday after Easter.

As Fr. Lombardi explained, the choice is full of significance for the late-Pope, who died just a day before the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005. That year, it fell on April 3.

The date changes from year-to-year, but is always the first Sunday after Easter.

"For those who followed John Paul II's pontificate, it is a special Sunday," said Fr. Lombardi.

It is a "fundamental date in his life and his encounter with the Lord," the Vatican spokesman said. He explained that it is the day the Church celebrates the apparition of Jesus to the disciples in the upper room and the institution of Confession.

The day was particularly important to the late-pontiff because it was the day in 2000 that he celebrated the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska and declared that the Sunday after Easter should henceforth be known as "Divine Mercy Sunday."

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Sister Faustina, known for promoting the Divine Mercy chaplet, which is prayed using a rosary, said that all who go to Confession and receive the Eucharist at Mass the Sunday after Easter will be given full remission of their sins.

Divine Mercy is "absolutely fundamental" to the pontificate of John Paul II.

"It's precisely the vision, we could say, of the pontificate of John Paul II that has this theme of the Divine Mercy," Fr. Lombardi said.

The staff at St. Peter's Basilica is already preparing for what is sure to be a grand occasion, drawing pilgrims from all over the globe. Workers are already cleaning the mosaics in the Chapel of St. Sebastian, just next to Michelangelo's Pietà, where the soon-to-be "blessed's" body will lie.

John Paul II's body will be taken from the crypt below and set below the chapel's altar.

Because the process came about so quickly after his death, Fr. Lombardi said that the body will not be exhumed for examination.

A marble stone bearing his name "Beatus Iovannes Paulus" will adorn the coffin.

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The body will not be exposed, as others are in the basilica, "at least not for now," said Fr. Lombardi.

Blessed Pope Innocent XI's tomb, currently found below the altar in the same chapel, will be moved nearer the high altar of St. Peter's to make room for the new tenant. His body will be put under the altar located below the famous mosaic rendering Raphael's The Transfiguration.

The transfer will take place some time before the May 1 beatification, said Fr. Lombardi. He said that other logistical details have yet to be decided for the celebration.

During his audience with Cardinal Amato, Pope Benedict also approved two miracles attributed to other figures, recognized the martyrdom of five religious sisters from Bosnia/Herzogovina, and certified that "heroic virtue" was found in the lives of five other candidates for sainthood.

One of the five who were seen to have exhibited extraordinary virtue in their lives is Fr. Nelson Baker of Buffalo, New York. He spent much of his 95 years of life in service to orphaned children.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, the prefect of the Vatican's office for the causes of saints said that all "are fascinating figures whose fame of saintliness is widespread in their countries of origin and who always constitute very current examples in their evangelical testimony."

During the briefing, Fr. Lombardi also noted their significance. "Sainthood in the Church is numerous," he said, "it's just that there some great protagonists."

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