A Healing Worthy of a Saint

By Molly Moore and Sarah Delaney
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 31, 2007

PARIS, March 30 -- For months she was known as the "mystery nun," an unidentified member of a religious order who told a Catholic Church investigator that she was miraculously cured of advanced Parkinson's disease after she and other nuns prayed to the late Pope John Paul II.

Her testimony -- describing the kind of medically inexplicable recovery that could help advance the pontiff toward sainthood -- was published anonymously on an Italian Catholic Web site. It bore the signature "A French Sister." Church officials, proceeding with a confidential inquiry into the claims, refused to name her.

On Friday morning, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, an unassuming 46-year-old who works in a Paris maternity clinic, stepped before a bank of microphones on French national television and, in a voice choked with emotion, declared that she was the nun.

She described going to bed one night barely able to write or walk and waking up at 4:30 a.m. fully cured. "All I can say is that I was ill and now I'm healed," said Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, smiling widely. "Now the church will decide if it's a miracle."

Church officials said Sister Marie Simon-Pierre's recovery from the advanced stages of a disease with no known cure could be instrumental in the canonization process, which can sometimes take centuries to complete but has been fast-tracked for John Paul.

In Rome on Monday, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre will take part in ceremonies commemorating the second anniversary of John Paul's death and the completion of the first phase of efforts to declare the pontiff "blessed," an intermediate step toward sainthood. This step, known as beatification, requires confirmation of one miracle brought about by the posthumous intercession of the candidate.

Calls of "Santo subito," or "Sainthood now," were shouted on the streets outside St. Peter's Basilica immediately following the death of John Paul on April 2, 2005. During his 26 years as pope, he traveled extensively and was among the most popular pontiffs in recent history. Pope Benedict XVI agreed to expedite the long process usually required to consider individuals for sainthood, in part because of the enthusiastic support for John Paul from his native Poland, where the church remains a vibrant institution in contrast to many other European countries.

Wearing a traditional black and white habit and wire-rimmed glasses, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre told her story after the newspaper Le Figaro revealed her identity on Wednesday.

The nun, a member of the order of the Little Sisters of Catholic Motherhood, said her Parkinson's was diagnosed in June 2001. She said she immediately felt an emotional kinship with the pope, who also suffered from the degenerative disease, which attacks the central nervous system.

Over the next four years, her symptoms worsened. By April 2005, she said, "I was wasting away, day by day." Her writing was barely legible because she could not control the shaking in her left hand, she stopped driving because she couldn't control her left leg, and she was constantly exhausted.

When John Paul died, the nun said, "my entire world fell apart. I had lost the only friend who could understand me and give me strength to go forward."

The nun and other sisters from her community began praying to John Paul to help heal her. But she only grew worse.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company