A French nun has spoken publicly of her "miraculous" cure from Parkinson's disease which the Vatican last week officially declared to have been an "intercession" from beyond the grave by Pope John Paul II.
Sister Marie Simon-Pierre's abrupt recovery in 2005 from the crippling symptoms of the incurable disease will be one of the principal justifications for the "fast-track" beatification of the late pope in Rome on 1 May.
At her first full press conference, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, 49, said that she had woken on 3 June 2005 – three months after John Paul's death – "completely transformed. I felt an interior peace and strength, like a second birth." The "intense pain" and shaking that had forced her to retire from her job as a maternity nurse had "completely disappeared", she said.
The nun said that she had always felt "spiritually close" to the Polish pope, who had also suffered from Parkinson's disease. Just before facing the press, she said: "I asked him to stand close by me."
In May 2005, her order, the Little Sisters of Maternity, started to pray to the recently deceased pope for her recovery. On 2 June, she said, her superior told her that she should not despair because, "John Paul II has not said his last word". That night, she had a "sudden urge to write and was surprised to be able to do so without trembling". She woke clear of all symptoms. She went to her superior again and said: "I am cured. I have been cured by John Paul II's intercession."
After an investigation by a medical and religious commission appointed by the Vatican, the nun's experiences were officially declared a miracle last year. As a result, Pope Benedict announced last week that he would beatify his predecessor – the first step towards sainthood – in a ceremony in the Vatican on 1 May.
At least one officially recognised miracle must have been attributed to a candidate for beatification. The ceremony will be the most rapid to be recorded in the two millennia of church history, breaking Mother Teresa of Calcutta's achievement in 2003.
A "miracle" can only be declared after senior doctors appointed by the Church have certified that there has been an "instant cure" from serious illness that cannot be explained in any other way. Neurological specialists say that Parkinson's disease, per se, is incurable but that patients can sometimes have "Parkinson's-type symptoms" which disappear.
Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who has been shielded from the press until now, smiled shyly but spoke confidently during her appearance in the archbishop's palace in Aix-en-Provence. She remained, she insisted, an ordinary person who had "never doubted" that John Paul II had interceded on her behalf.
"Why me? That remains a great mystery. There were no doubt many people, including children, who were sicker than me. I can't explain it. We are just the servants of life."
Pope's path to sainthood
During his time as Pope, John Paul II beatified more than 1,300 people – more than all of his predecessors combined. It is the first step towards sainthood and requires that a miracle has taken place. A second one is required for sainthood.
For John Paul II, Pope Benedict waived the five-year period before the process can begin. The analysis of a miracle rests with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The Vatican issued stricter rules in 2008 after complaints that the Congregation was becoming a"saint factory".