claimed from late pope’s intercession
FRANCIS X. ROCCA
VATICAN CITY (RNS) —
Jesse was just 10 days old in November 2009 when he was diagnosed with
Herpes simplex, a virus often lethal to a newborn child. Doctors at
Children’s National Medical Centre in Washington, D.C. told his
parents that he had no better than a 50 per cent chance of surviving,
and at most a 25 per cent chance of living without severe brain damage.
As the Virginia boy waited
for a possible liver transplant, his grandfather started praying to
the late Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005 and will be beatified by
Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday (May 1).
Practically at once, Jesse’s
vital signs began to improve. He went off dialysis a few days later,
and was released the following month with a clean bill of health, after
what the specialist in charge called a recovery of unprecedented swiftness.
The hospital’s medical
staff hailed Jesse as the “miracle baby.”
Author Saverio Gaeta writes
that he culled Jesse’s case, along with dozens of other possible
miracles attributed to the late pope’s intercession, from “thousands”
of such stories reported around the world since John Paul’s death.
A church-certified miracle
— typically defined as a “scientifically inexplicable”
recovery from a physical ailment following prayers to a deceased Catholic
— is generally required for beatification. (That requirement is
waived in the cases of martyrs.) Another miracle, occurring after beatification,
is required for sainthood.
“A miracle ... is like
a kind of postmark from God through which he guarantees the sanctity”
of those celebrated by the church for their “heroic virtues,”
says Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former head of the Vatican’s
Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in Gaeta’s book.
In John Paul’s beatification
cause, the necessary miracle is believed to have come in the 2005 healing
of a French nun, Sister Marie Simon Pierre Normand, who had been diagnosed
with Parkinson’s disease in 2001. According to a Vatican investigation,
she quickly recovered from the disease after two fellow nuns prayed
for help to John Paul, who had also suffered from Parkinson’s.
Various media outlets reported
last spring that medical experts had cast doubt on the French nun’s
recovery — reports that Gaeta dismisses as the “empty clamour
of journalistic polemics.”
One thing, at least, is clear from the unverified stories recounted in Gaeta’s book: when John Paul is declared “blessed,” the celebrations will extend far beyond the confines of St. Peter’s Square.
Gaeta, the editor-in-chief
of Famiglia Cristiana, one of Italy’s highest-circulation magazines,
claims to have had privileged access to the advocate’s files of
letters, many of them left by pilgrims at John Paul’s tomb in
the Vatican. With the exception of the nun, Gaeta’s book provides
only the first names of the persons involved in the cases he cites.
Spokespeople for the Archdiocese
of Washington and for the dioceses of Arlington and Richmond, Va., said
they knew nothing about the case of baby Jesse. A spokesperson for Children’s
National Medical Centre declined to comment, citing privacy laws.
Gaeta told a reporter he
would not divulge the persons’ identities unless the postulator’s
office obtained their permission first.
Among the other stories recounted
in Gaeta’s book is of a Pennsylvania schoolboy named Luke, who
suffered an apparently disabling neck injury while playing lacrosse
in June 2005. A neurologist at a Philadelphia pediatric hospital pronounced
the boy in good health three days later, after a friend of his grandmother
prayed to John Paul.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese
of Philadelphia wasn’t available for comment or verification of
the boy’s story.
Gaeta also cites a Catholic
man in an unnamed U.S. city, who asked for John Paul’s intercession
and promptly recovered from cirrhosis of the liver.
Intriguingly, the book also
mentions that John Paul’s beatification cause involved an official
church investigation in New York, held to “take the testimony
of an American citizen.” Gaeta said the confidential nature of
his sources prevented him from specifying the investigation’s
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