SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Suffering a potentially fatal swelling in the brain, Costa Rican grandmother Floribeth Mora says a voice spoke to her through a photograph of the late Pope John Paul II, miraculously curing her and sealing the late pontiff’s sainthood.
The Vatican said on Friday that Pope Francis had approved Mora’s cure as the requisite second miracle for the sainthood of John Paul II, who led the Roman Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005.
John Paul, a Pole, was the first non-Italian pope in 450 years. His progression to sainthood is the fastest in modern times.
Mora says she was diagnosed with an aneurysm in a cerebral artery on April 14, 2011, and sent home from the hospital with the warning she could be dead within a month, although the surgeon who made the diagnosis denies he gave such a warning.
According to Mora, she drifted off to sleep in the early hours of May 1, 2011, after watching a Mass on television to mark the beatification of John Paul II, who died in 2005.
She says she prayed to the late pope to heal her, and when she awoke, her eyes fell on a picture of him she had on top of the television.
“I woke up when I heard a voice that said ‘get up,’” Mora, now 50, said on Friday at the Roman Catholic Church’s administrative offices in San Jose, showing the clipping. “I was alone in my room, I only had this clipping that was published around those dates to commemorate John Paul II’s papacy.”
“I had it in front of me and I heard a voice again that said ‘get up’ and I looked at his photo and saw his open arms and I heard a voice that said ‘be not afraid’ and I said ‘Yes Lord,’” she added between tears, a golden rosary hanging around her neck.
“I went to my husband and he asked me what I was doing and I just said, ‘I feel fine, I feel fine, I feel fine.’”
In a written statement distributed by the Church, Mora said she had been warned that she likely only had a short time to live.
“I was even warned that it would not be more than a month,” she said.
The neurosurgeon who admitted and diagnosed Mora, however, denies he gave her a month to live. Alejandro Vargas says he forecast only a 2 percent chance Mora could bleed into her brain again within a year of her diagnosis, possibly killing her.
“She was sent home with medication that would reduce her blood pressure and was advised to improve her diet so as not to raise her cholesterol levels and thus decrease the chance of her having a second bleeding episode. She was sedated because the headaches were too sharp,” he told Reuters. “We didn’t send her home to be sedated and wait until she died in her sleep.”
However, Vargas cannot explain how Mora’s aneurysm disappeared.
“What we found remarkable, unbelievable really, was that by November there was absolutely no trace in her brain that she ever had an aneurysm,” he said. “I had never seen this in my career.”
Before he was beatified, the late John Paul already had been credited with asking God to cure a French nun of Parkinson’s disease, the same malady he himself had suffered from.
Mora lives in a small house in the eastern province of Cartago, around 14 miles southeast of the capital, San Jose, with her husband, Carlos Arce, and their youngest child.
On the doorstep of their small, tidy house, she has erected a shrine to John Paul II.
A large printed image of the first Polish pope is decorated with colorful plastic flowers and Christmas lights. Resting on the pope’s portrait is a piece of paper confirming the diagnosis of her aneurysm.
Not everyone accepts her accounts as a miracle, her husband said.
“We’ve faced a lot of nonbelievers these last two years,” he said.
A few days ago, their youngest son showed his mother some posts on Facebook from people who didn’t believe that what happened to her was an act of God.
“It’s been very hard on her, those messages did nothing but make her cry,” Arce said.
John Paul went down in history as the “globe-trotting pope,” visiting every inhabited continent in more than 100 trips outside Italy.
He was credited with being instrumental in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 because of his steadfast defense of the Solidarity trade union in his native Poland.
After martial law was declared in Poland in 1981, he is believed to have told then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev that if Russia invaded Poland, he would return home.
John Paul was nearly killed by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot him in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. Two trials failed to prove Italian magistrates’ accusations that the Bulgarian secret services had carried out the plot with Agca on behalf of the Soviet Union.
Millions of people attended his funeral in April 2005, and many cried “Santo Subito” or “Make him a saint immediately.”
His successor, Benedict, waived a Church rule that normally requires a five-year waiting period before the preliminaries to sainthood can even begin.
The Vatican said on Friday that Pope John XXIII, who called the reforming Second Vatican Council, also will be declared a saint.
Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council — which enacted sweeping reforms to modernize the Church — has only been credited with one miracle since his death. Two confirmed miracles usually are required under Vatican rules for the declaration of a saint.
The canonization ceremonies, which are likely to bring hundreds of thousands to people to Rome, are expected this year.
In the case of Pope John XXIII, who was known as the “good pope,” Francis waived the customary rules requiring a second miracle after beatification, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. John XXIII was beatified in 2000.
Francis, who has tried to instil a spirit of simplicity and reform in the Church since his election in March, is known to have great admiration for the reforming Pope John, who was born of peasant stock in northern Italy.
Former Maine bishop Richard J. Malone, now apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Portland, expressed approval of the new saints.
“This is a day of great joy for the entire Catholic Church. By approving the canonization of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII, Pope Francis has recognized the selfless contributions of two holy men who shepherded the Church during very different, very important times,” Malone, now the bishop of Buffalo N.Y., said Friday in a prepared statement.
“John XXIII’s leadership during the Second Vatican Council, combined with John Paul II’s guidance as the Church truly became global, his call to the New Evangelization, outreach to inactive Catholics and transformation of the culture, all worked to inspire countless people to witness their faith and work to better the lives of others.
“It is my prayer and hope that these modern day saints will inspire people, especially the young, to faithfully serve the Church and all of mankind,” Malone stated.
Liberals in the Church say John Paul was too harsh with theological dissenters who wanted to help the poor, particularly in Latin America. Others say he should be held ultimately responsible for sexual abuse scandals because they occurred or came to light when he was in charge.
John Paul also drew criticism for supporting the late Father Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of the Legionaries of Christ religious order, defending him despite charges of sexual abuse that later turned out to be true.
John XXIII has for decades been venerated by Italians who recall his kind gestures. While he was pope for less than five years, his short pontificate coincided with the post-World War II “economic miracle” that transformed Italy from a devastated agricultural backwater to an international economic power.