`Miracle' cure brings blessings on arthritis sufferer and Italian village

ECCLESIASTICAL authorities in Rome are studying evidence that a British woman suffering from chronic arthritis underwent a "miraculous" recovery after visiting a holy shrine.

Maria Zammit had been unable to walk without a stick since she was in her 20s, and suffered terrible pain in her knees. But after a visit to the shrine of St Maria Goretti, south of Rome, Mrs Zammit was able to throw away her crutches and walk unaided.

"There were times when I was in so much pain that I prayed to die," said Mrs Zammit, 67, from south London. "After I went to the shrine I found I was able to walk. I was elated. It has changed my life. It was a miracle." Whether Mrs Zammit's experience constitutes a genuine miracle, as recognised by the Catholic Church, is at the heart of the matter. While she is convinced her recovery is the work of God, others are more suspicious.

Monsignor Di Veroli, spokesman for the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, the Vatican office responsible for ruling on candidates for canonisation, said: "At this point, it's all up to the woman's doctor. They have to come up with conclusive evidence from England.

"The doctor will have to get together a team of medics, and prove that this cure really can't be explained in medical terms. We will then set up a theological committee to study the case. Only at that point can the cure be pronounced a true miracle."

But locals in the hamlet of Borgo Le Ferriere where the young St Maria, aged just 12, fought off the lustful advances of a neighbour and was stabbed to death for her efforts in 1902, are used to such miracles.

"We get around 10 miracles a year connected with Maria Goretti," said Fr Giovanni Alberti, author of a biography of the saint, who was beatified in 1947 by Pope Pius XII. "And when it comes down to it, it's only to be expected. After all, she's fully canonised: she's meant to perform miracles."

"I was in Maria Goretti's house having mass and I felt that I was able to kneel down with no pain," she said.

Mrs Zammit's GP, Dr Justin Hayes, also believes her cure may be the work of God.

"I have never seen such a spontaneous improvement from osteoarthritis. Some people may say this is quite possible, others may say it is more remarkable than that," he said.

Dr Hayes, 38, a GP for 10 years, has written a report on Mrs Zammit's recovery which she has sent to the ecclesiastical authorities. It refers to her "incredible, you might even say miraculous" recovery.

Of course, every miracle attracts its cynics. In this case the cynics point out that for the village of Borgo Le Ferriere, a successful cure is indeed a godsend. The pilgrim trade is the village's economic mainstay. This year, things have been looking up.

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