VATICAN CITY – Details emerged Friday of the miracle that has brought Pope John Paul II to the ranks of saints, an elevation the Vatican announced he will share with another beloved pontiff, John XXIII.
Floribeth Mora, a Costa Rican woman, broke months of silence to tell her story in public, surrounded by her family, doctors and church officials at a news conference in the archbishop’s residence in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Vatican officials confirmed it was her experience that is being credited as the second miracle needed for John Paul II’s canonization.
A tearful Mora described how she awoke at her home in Dulce Nombre de Tres Rios, about 12 miles from the capital, on April 8, 2011, with a debilitating headache that sent her to the hospital. She was diagnosed with having suffered a cerebral aneurism in the right side of her brain.
Doctors decided they couldn’t operate because the area was inaccessible.
“With an open operation or an endovascular intervention, the risk to Floribeth would have been to die or be left with a significant neurological deficit,” her doctor, Dr. Alejandro Vargas, told reporters.
She was sent home with painkillers.
“I returned home with the fear that I was going to die,” Mora said.
Nevertheless, a few days later, she insisted on participating in a religious procession during which she said she received a sign that she would be healed. The family decided to build a shrine to John Paul outside their home: a colorful altar with a photo of the late pope next to a statue of the Madonna and surrounded by flowers, candles and Christmas lights.
On the day John Paul was beatified, May 1, 2011, Mora said she insisted on watching the Mass, which drew some 1.5 million people to St. Peter’s Square and the streets around it.
“I contemplated the photo of the Holy Father with his arms extended and I fixed my eyes on him,” she said. “In this moment, I heard a voice tell me ‘get up, don’t be afraid,’ and I could only say ‘Yes, I’m going to get up.’ ”
She said her family was shocked to see her get out of bed. “I was afraid to tell my husband, because he was going to think I was crazy or on drugs. But I got up from bed, and I am here before you, healthy,” she said. Medical tests confirmed that the aneurism had disappeared, Vargas said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen anything like it,” he said, showing the before and after images of the aneurism.
Pope Francis approved a decree that the Costa Rican woman’s inexplicable cure from a deadly brain aneurism was the “miracle” needed to canonize John Paul.
And more significantly, he decided that John XXIII, who convened Vatican II, could be declared a saint even without a second miracle attributed to his intercession. The Vatican said Francis had the power to dispense with such requirements and could proceed with only one confirmed miracle to John’s name.
It was a remarkable show of papal authority and confirmed Francis’ willingness to bend church tradition when it comes to things he cares deeply about. Both popes are also closely identified with the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that brought the Catholic Church into modern times, an indication that Francis clearly wants to make a statement about the council’s role in shaping the church today.
The ceremony is expected before the end of the year. The date of Dec. 8 has been floated as likely, given it’s the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a major feast day for the church that honors Mary, to whom both saintly popes were particularly devoted. Polish prelates continue to press for October, to mark the 35th anniversary of the Polish-born John Paul’s election, but Vatican officials have suggested that’s too soon to organize such a massive event.
The announcement came on a remarkable day melding papacies past and present: It opened with Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI attending their first Vatican ceremony together, sitting side-by-side on matching papal chairs for the unveiling of a statue in the Vatican gardens. It continued with the publication of Francis’ first encyclical, a meditation on faith that was largely written by Benedict before he retired but was signed by Francis. And it climaxed with Francis’ decision to canonize two other predecessors.
Each event, historic on its own, would have captured headlines. But the canonization announcement capped them all, reflecting the priorities of this unique pontificate that has already broken so many rules and traditions, from Francis’ decision to shun papal vestments to his housing arrangements, living in the Vatican hotel rather than the stuffy Apostolic Palace.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Vatican analyst, said the decision to canonize both popes was a “brilliant move to unify the church,” given that each pope has his own admirers and critics.
“With the joint announcement, Pope Francis is saying we do not have to choose between popes, we can honor and revere both as holy men who served the church well in their times,” he wrote on his blog for the National Catholic Reporter newspaper.
In the encyclical released Friday, Benedict’s hand is evident throughout much of the first three chapters of “The Light of Faith,” with his theological style, concerns and reference points clear.
Francis’ priorities come through strongest in the final chapter, where the Argentine Jesuit insists on the role of faith in serving the common good and giving hope to those who suffer. It includes his first clear statement as pope on marriage being a union between man and woman with the aim of creating children.
“This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgement and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh and are enabled to give birth to a new life,” the encyclical reads.
Francis also cites his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, as well as Mother Teresa, in saying “How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer!” And he concludes with a prayer to Mary, to whom he is particularly devoted.
The encyclical didn’t appear to break any new ground in church teaching; its novelty was entirely in the dual authorship, signed and unsigned, and that it was the first of Francis’ nascent pontificate.