ROME — Pope John Paul II's own suffering is being highlighted on the eve of his beatification, with aides testifying about his long battle with Parkinson's disease and a French nun cured of the same ailment taking a starring role in the ceremonies.
The Vatican decreed that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre's inexplicable cure from Parkinson's was the miracle needed to beatify John Paul. Her story will be highlighted at the all-night prayer vigil Saturday night ahead of Sunday's beatification Mass for John Paul.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were converging on Rome for the beatification, and by Saturday St. Peter's Square was abuzz despite a steady rain.
By nightfall, many of the faithful toting backpacks and sleeping bags had begun filling Rome's giant Circus Maximus field for the vigil, during which Simon-Pierre will be joined by John Paul's longtime private secretary and his spokesman in offering testimony about the late pope.
The vigil was expected to last all night, a so-called "white night" of prayer that will continue in eight churches being kept open in the city center before barricades around St. Peter's Square open to pilgrims at 5:30 a.m. (0330GMT) for the 10 a.m. (0800GMT) beatification Mass.
The beatification is taking place despite a steady drumbeat of criticism about the record-fast speed with which John Paul is being honored, and continued outrage about the clerical abuse scandal: Many of the crimes and cover-ups of priests who raped children occurred on John Paul's 27-year watch.
But Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the retired head of the Vatican's saint-making office who presided over the investigation into John Paul's life for the beatification, said Saturday the pope couldn't be held responsible for something he didn't know about.
A video montage to be shown at the Circus Maximus vigil was expected to focus in particular on the final months of John Paul's life, when his own Parkinson's disease made it impossible for him to speak or walk and he was hospitalized for days at a time. He died April 2, 2005.
Rita Megliorin, the head nurse in the intensive care department at Rome's Gemelli hospital, tended to John Paul during his final months. She said during the time John Paul was in her care, she experienced a personal transformation of sorts watching how he dealt with his impending death.