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Thousands at vigil for Pope John Paul II

ROME -- Thousands of young people flooded an ancient Roman field Saturday for an all-night prayer vigil honoring Pope John Paul II on the eve of his beatification, remembering his teachings, travels and his own suffering.

Pilgrims waving flags from Poland, Spain, Germany and Brazil filled the Circus Maximus, which twinkled with the light of thousands of candles as choirs from John Paul's native Poland, the Philippines and Italy sang. They listened as a French nun who suffered from Parkinson's disease recounted how she was cured after praying to John Paul, who battled the same disease.

The Vatican has decreed that Sister Marie Simone-Pierre's inexplicable healing was the miracle needed to beatify John Paul, a process that will reach its culmination Sunday during a Mass in St. Peter's Square celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.

John Paul's tomb was opened Friday and his sealed coffin removed for public viewing starting Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica.

Benedict put John Paul on the fast track for possible sainthood when he dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the beatification process to begin weeks after his April 2, 2005, death.

Last night, a film of John Paul's final moments and his funeral reminded those gathered of tearful days six years earlier, when St. Peter's overflowed with some 3 million paying their last respects to the pope.

"He died a saint," Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul's longtime secretary, told the crowd. -- AP


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