Pope John Paul Takes Step Towards Sainthood

May 1 beatification ceremony expected draw huge crowds to Vatican.

ROME Jan. 14, 2011— -- Pope Benedict XVI approved a miracle attributed to his predecessor John Paul II today and the Vatican announced that the Polish pope will be beatified on May 1.

Beatification is step towards sainthood and the ceremony is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to Rome, especially people from John Paul II's Polish homeland. John Paul II's funeral in 2005 drew millions.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously agreed that the sudden recovery of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre from Parkinson's disease after she prayed to John Paul II was miraculous.

Pope John Paul II died at age 84 in April 2005 from complications from Parkinson's disease from which he suffered for decades, in a public display of suffering and courage as he gradually lost control of his ability to walk and to talk.

That same year Sister Simon-Pierre testified that after dreaming of John Paul II she suddenly recovered from her own Parkinson's disease. Before her cure, the disease had made walking, writing and driving a car nearly impossible. She and others had been praying to John Paul II to help her.

The miracle regarding sister Simon-Pierre was just one of dozens that the office of Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the postulator in John Paul II's sainthood cause, received in the months and years following his death. Hers was chosen for it's clearly scientifically unexplainable nature, and because she suffered from the same illness as John Paul II.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints said Vatican-appointed doctors had "scrupulously" studied the case and determined that her cure had no scientific explanation.

With the miracle cleared, John Paul II's path to sainthood forges forward, but more steps and yet another miracle must be approved before he will be Saint John Paul II.

When he is beatified on May 1 he will become Blessed and the Vatican has announced plans to move his body from the Grottoes under St. Peter's Cathedral, where hundreds visit his tomb daily, up into the church itself. Preparations are under way to make room for him in the chapel of St. Sebastian, down the aisle from Michelangelo's famous "Pieta."

Pope John Paul's Miracle Sets Stage for Beatification

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul's longtime secretary and friend, expressed "huge thanks" to Benedict for the decree. "We are happy today," he said.

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.

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.

Born in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920, Karol Wojtyla was the youngest pope in 125 years and the first non-Italian in 455 years when he was elected pope in 1978.

He brought a new vitality to the Vatican, and quickly became the most accessible modern pope, sitting down for meals with factory workers, skiing and wading into crowds to embrace the faithful.

He was the most traveled pope ever, visiting more than 120 nations during the third-longest papacy. His Polish roots nourished a doctrinal conservatism ? opposition to contraception, euthanasia, abortion and women priests ? that rankled liberal Catholics in the United States and Western Europe.

But his common touch also made him a crowd-pleasing superstar whose 26-year papacy carried the Roman Catholic Church into Christianity's third millennium and emboldened eastern Europeans to bring down the communist system.

He survived an assassination attempt in St. Peter's Square in 1981 ? and then forgave the Turk who had shot him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report