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Church prepares to beatify John Paul II

The late Pope John Paul II moved a big step closer to Roman Catholic sainthood yesterday when his successor approved a decree attributing a miracle to him and announced that he will be beatified on 1 May.

The ceremony in St Peter's Square marking the last step before sainthood is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people, harkening back to the funeral of the charismatic pope in 2005, one of the biggest media events of the new century.

Before the ceremony his coffin will be moved from the Vatican crypts and placed under an altar in a chapel in St Peter's Basilica so that more people can pay homage.

Italian tourist Mario Corona said: "This will be an extraordinary event... He really deserves it, he was a man who really did great things and was recognised by the whole world."

John Paul's 27-year papacy was one of the most historic and tumultuous of modern times. During his pontificate, communism collapsed across eastern Europe, starting in his native Poland, where yesterday's news was greeted with jubilation.

"I am very happy. For us Poles, this is a signal that we should live in dignity, just how our Saint John Paul taught us," said Barbara Adaszewska, as she left a church in Warsaw.

Vatican officials have said the miracle attributed to John Paul concerned Sister Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, a 49-year-old French nun diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

She said her illness inexplicably disappeared two months after his death, when she and her fellow nuns prayed to him.