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 own suffering.
Pilgrims waving flags from Poland, Spain, Germany and Brazil filled Rome's 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 fought a long battle with the 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 at 10 a.m. today 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 death on April 2, 2005. 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 field, and film of John Paul's final days 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.
The beatification is taking place despite steady criticism about the record speed in which John Paul is being honored, and continued outrage about the clerical abuse scandal: Many of the crimes and coverups of priests who raped children occurred on John Paul's 27-year watch.
But 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 that the pope couldn't be held responsible for something he didn't know about.