VATICAN CITY – Roman Catholic Church officials passed a key milestone in the drive to make Pope John Paul II a saint Monday, closing an investigation into his life during a ceremony on the second anniversary of the beloved pontiff's death.
Also Monday, church officials from France delivered to the Vatican a dossier detailing the purported miraculous cure of a nun who prayed to John Paul — a key requirement for beatification, the last step before possible sainthood.
The remarkably fast pace underscores the Church's keen interest in beatifying John Paul and responding to the calls of "Santo Subito" or "Sainthood Immediately!" that erupted after his death.
Pope Benedict XVI put John Paul on the fast track for possible sainthood just weeks after his April 2, 2005, death, waiving the customary five-year waiting period and allowing the investigation into John Paul's virtues to begin immediately.
Such a waiver had only been granted once before, to Mother Teresa.
On Monday, officials from the Rome diocese presided over the official closure of the investigation, tying shut with ribbons and sealing with wax big black boxes of documentation that will be forwarded to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints for consideration.
The cleric spearheading the beatification cause, Monsignor Slawomir Oder, also took an oath in Latin promising to be faithful in delivering the documentation he had gathered on the life and virtues of John Paul.
But for many in the pews of St. John Lateran Basilica, the ceremony was to some degree unnecessary.
"There's no doubt for me he's already a saint," said Teresa Broda, who came to Rome with other Polish pilgrims from Katowice. But, she added, "I'm here with all my heart."
Oder acknowledged recently that his probe was completed unusually quickly — particularly considering the vast amount of material that had to be collected. About 130 people were interviewed, historians gathered books about John Paul from libraries around the globe and theologians studied his private writings to determine if he ever wrote anything heretical.
Such complicated investigations often take decades or centuries, not a matter of months.
"But speed doesn't mean a lack of seriousness," Oder said.
He again declined to give a timetable for any possible beatification, telling Poland's TVN24 television Monday: "The beatification process is not a media question, it is a question of the Holy Spirit."
Among those calling for swift canonization is the pope's longtime private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow, Poland, who attended Monday's ceremony. At dawn, he also celebrated a Mass to mark the anniversary of John Paul's death at his tomb in the grottos underneath St. Peter's Basilica.
John Paul's cause has been bolstered by the testimony of a French nun, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, who says she was cured of Parkinson's disease after she and her fellow sisters prayed to the late pope.
The Vatican's complicated saint-making procedures require that a miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession be confirmed before beatification. A second miracle is necessary for canonization.
On Monday, officials from Simon-Pierre's diocese delivered the documentation about the alleged miracle to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, an official at the congregation said, refusing to be identified further.
The Congregation will now appoint medical experts to determine if there are medical explanations for the cure. Theologians will then determine if the cure came as a result of prayer to John Paul.
If panels of bishops and cardinals agree that John Paul led a virtuous life and that Simon-Pierre was indeed miraculously cured, they will forward the case to Benedict. He will then decide if his predecessor deserves to be beatified.