John Paul II even closer to sainthood
Vatican City - Evidence is mounting that the pope will soon approve the miracle needed to beatify Pope John Paul II, setting the stage for a major celebration this year for a Catholic Church trying to recover from the clerical sex abuse scandal.
Italian news media have been reporting that in recent weeks Vatican-sponsored panels confirmed that a young French nun was miraculously cured of Parkinson's disease after praying to the Polish-born John Paul.
Pope Benedict XVI now must sign off on the miracle and set a date for the beatification, the first major step to possible sainthood.
Polish Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, former No. 2 of the Polish Bishops' Conference and an old friend of the late pope, said on Thursday that he understood an announcement could come on Friday, though he stressed he didn't have independent confirmation.
He said the beatification date could be as early as May 1, though other reports have said it would be later in the year given the enormous preparations that will be necessary to host the influx of pilgrims for the event.
On Thursday, workers began restoring a mosaic in a chapel near the entrance of St Peter's Basilica, where John Paul's remains presumably would be moved for better public access once beatified.
His tomb is currently in the grottoes underneath the basilica, where a short line of tourists waited on Thursday to pay their respects.
The Vatican will not publicly discuss the possibility of such a move ahead of a formal announcement by Benedict, said the Vatican spokesperson, the Reverend Federico Lombardi.
Benedict put John Paul on the fast track to possible sainthood just weeks after he died in 2005, responding to the chants of "Santo Subito!" or "Sainthood immediately!" that erupted during his funeral Mass.
Benedict waived the typical five-year waiting period before the process could begin, but he insisted that the investigation into John Paul's life be thorough so as to not leave any doubts about his virtues.
The last remaining hurdle concerned the approval by Vatican-appointed panels of doctors and theologians, cardinals and bishops that the cure of French nun, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, was a miracle due to the intercession of John Paul.
The nun has said she felt reborn when she woke up two months after John Paul died, cured of the disease that had made walking, writing and driving a car nearly impossible. She and her fellow sisters had prayed to John Paul, who also suffered from Parkinson's.
Last year, there were some questions about whether the nun's original diagnosis was correct. But those doubts were apparently put to rest after more doctors examined her case.
Il Giornale, a conservative newspaper which covers the Vatican closely, reported earlier this week that the nun's case had cleared the panels and that all that remained was Benedict's approval.
Second miracle must be confirmed
"The pope still needs to pronounce himself but it has not happened before that he would not accept such an opinion (confirming a miracle)," Pieronek said.
A second miracle, occurring after beatification, must be confirmed for John Paul to be declared a saint.
Since John Paul was such a universally beloved figure, his beatification is expected to be a major boost for a church reeling from the fallout of the clerical sexual abuse scandal, which saw thousands of new cases in Europe and beyond come to light last year.
John Paul, though, did not escape scrutiny, since many of the cases concerned crimes or cover-ups that occurred under his watch.
Vatican officials have said there was nothing in John Paul's record that called into question his path to beatification.
Cardinal Jose Saraiva-Martins, the former head of the Vatican's saint-making office, said the beatification would be a "moment of joy" for the church which has been grieved not only by the abuse scandal but the persecution of Christians around the world.
"Something so joyful is certainly very important for the church," he said.