Man Arises and Walks -- and Says Pope Helped Him

Doctors can't explain why Joe Amaral healed. He says he knows: It was a miracle.

ByElizabeth Vargas and Jessica Hornig
March 30, 2010, 4:43 PM

March 31, 2010 — -- At the St. Anthony of Padua Catholic church in New Bedford, Mass., parishioners believe the late Pope John Paul II is truly a miracle worker.

Joe Amaral is one of those faithful parishioners. He said he's always been a believer in saints and miracles. It's a faith, he says, that is reinforced by the simple fact that he's now walking.

For decades, Amaral suffered from spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine. Doctors had told Amaral and his wife, Ann Marie Amaral, that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, if not in a full-time care facility.

"The doctor said 'I'm sorry,' the connection from the brain ... that tells you to walk and to move, it was, is gone," Amaral told ABC News.

Canes and crutches were a part of Amaral's life for 30 years. His condition was further complicated by a stroke of the spine in 2003, which forced him to quit his job as a real estate appraiser.

Ann Marie Amaral is an accountant for the state. "I went to work, then I would come home and cook dinner, and clean the house, and he would get frustrated cause he couldn't help," she said.

Despite his handicap, Amaral would attend church at St. Anthony of Padua every Sunday. It was no easy task. His wife recalled what a struggle it was for him just to walk up the stairs in front of their beautiful church.

"It was difficult ... at this particular church, there's no elevator," said Ann Marie.

The head of the Amarals' parish, Father Roger Landry, said Amaral's struggle was well known to all.

"He'd work his way up the stairs -- the huge granite staircase that we have outside," said Landry. " He'd come up on those forearm crutches ... leaning forward, dragging his legs behind... and it touched me very much to see this man's great faith."

That deep faith was at the center of what Amaral and Landry say was a miracle. It began two years ago, during a Saturday confession.

"Something happened," said Amaral. "And then Sunday morning I felt different. Not physically great, but felt like a calmness and peace."

Amaral said he was inspired to increase his prayers to a spiritual hero, Pope John Paul II. "I prayed to understand God's will," he said. "I never prayed to walk."

Miracle? 'I Just Got Up'

Then Amaral got what he thought was as a sign. After he finished praying, he turned on the television -- and was shocked to see a documentary on John Paul II.

"I happened to look at the picture of Pope John Paul II and I just got up," Amaral said. "Just got up and started walking. The more I kept walking, the more [I said], 'Thank you, thank you Lord.'"

Amaral's son, David, was the first to see him walk. "It really surprised me," David Amaral said. "It wasn't... something that I thought I would ever see." Amaral said he swore his son to secrecy and walked around his house for two days, making sure it wasn't a fluke, before surprising his wife.

"I came home and he's standing there, and he's like, 'Do you notice anything different?'" Ann Marie recalled. "And I'm looking at him and, you know, who looks at their husband? You come home every day and you see him, just say 'Hey, how's it going?' So I'm looking at him, and I'm like, 'Didn't get a haircut..." It took me like 30 seconds to realize, 'You're standing there.' No crutches. He's not leaning on anything. And I was, I was stunned."

Amaral's doctors were as surprised as the family.

"I stood up and gave [my doctor] my cane," Amaral remembered, "and for five minutes, he said nothing." Physicians and therapists working with Amaral could find no precedent for a condition as serious as his reversing itself.

"I do not have a medical reason" for the remarkable recovery, Amaral's doctor wrote.

Miracle? Late Pope's Path to Sainthood

Landry said there is no doubt in his mind that John Paul II performed a miracle for Amaral.

"I've on many occasions used Amaral in the preaching here, so that all parishioners know that the miracles that they read about in the gospels didn't just happen 2,000 years ago in the Middle East... but that the same Lord who lovingly worked those miracles continues to work them here in New Bedford," Landry said.

Amaral's family said they live with the blessings of that miracle every day. And his parents, brothers, daughter and sister are certain who interceded in granting it: Pope John Paul II. Through prayers to him, they believe, Amaral's abiding faith was rewarded.

Amaral's daughter Rachel is convinced that the late Pope intervened. "It's just amazing... all of a sudden he just got up and walked," she said. "To me that's a miracle."

Amaral's case could figure in the potential conferring of sainthood on the late pope. All candidates for sainthood require proof of intervention in two confirmed miracles. Potential miracles are rigorously investigated by teams of Vatican physicians.

With the fifth anniversary of Pope John Paul II's death falling on April 2, officials at the Vatican say they are examining Amaral's case -- along with more than 240 other alleged miracles attributed to the late pope.

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