AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France - Parkinson's - the same disease her beloved Pope John Paul II suffered - robbed Sister Marie Simon-Pierre of her ability to walk, drive or even write.
Then, in one night of prayer and mystery the Vatican may accept as the miracle it needs to beatify the pope, the French nun's symptoms vanished.
"John Paul II cured me," the 46-year-old nun said Friday, smiling serenely as she spoke for the first time in public about her experience.
"It is difficult for me to explain to you in words ... It was too strong, too big. A mystery."
Described as a gentle, reserved woman who had hoped to keep her identity secret, the nun coped well with the media spotlight. She looked a little bemused as journalists huddled around her, putting microphones in place. She smiled and held up her left hand, which, she said, had hung limply at her side before her recovery.
Only momentarily, when describing how her symptoms worsened after the pope's death on April 2, 2005, did she lose a little of her poise.
"Please excuse me, I'm a little emotional," she said.
But many questions remained unanswered - not least whether she herself considers her experience to be miraculous.
That "is for the church to say," came her firm reply. "All I can tell you is that I was sick and now I am cured."
The nun said she comes from a family of practicing Catholics in the Cambrai region of northern France - but she refused to be more precise about her hometown than that. She has four younger sisters and brothers and had always been an admirer of John Paul, who became pontiff when she was 17.
"He was, in a way, my pope, the pope of our generation," she said.
His courage in the face of Parkinson's inspired her - but she couldn't bear to watch him on TV. Seeing him frail and hunched by the disease was a too-stark foretaste of her own future.
"I saw myself in the years to come, to be honest, in a wheel chair," she said. When he died, "I felt as if I had lost a friend."
"He was extraordinary," she added. "I wish only to pay homage to him."
Exactly two months after his death, on June 2, 2005, the nun said she could bear her worsening illness no more. She told her mother superior that she could no longer do her job at a maternity ward near Aix-en-Provence in southern France.
The mother superior's reaction was somewhat surprising: She told the nun to write down John Paul's name on a piece of paper. She did - and it was practically illegible, the sister said.
The Little Sisters of Catholic Maternities, the nun's community, all prayed together to the late pontiff. After evening prayers, she went to her room. There, she said, an inner voice urged her to write again.
"I wrote a little bit and, upon seeing my handwriting, I said to myself, â€˜That's strange. Your writing is very readable,'" she said.
She went to sleep and woke at about 4:30 in the morning.
"I bounded out of bed, and I felt completely transformed. I was no longer the same inside," she said. To a fellow nun, she said, "'Look, my hand is no longer shaking. John Paul II has cured me."
She said she has been medication-free since that day.
"My life has totally changed. For me, it is a bit like a second birth," the sister said. "I had the impression I was rediscovering my body."
Before John Paul can be beatified - the last formal step before possible sainthood - the Vatican requires that a miracle attributed to his intercession be confirmed. A second miracle would be needed for sainthood.
The nun is to travel to Rome for ceremonies Monday marking the second anniversary of the pontiff's death and the closure of a church investigation into his life. At that time, a thick green file bound in a red ribbon containing the findings of a yearlong study of the case will be presented by a delegation led by Archbishop Claude Feidt. The file, which includes testimony from five experts, three of them neurologists, will be reviewed by a special non-Vatican committee. A favorable response would send the case on to Pope Benedict XVI, the only one who can declare the case a miracle. Pope Benedict XVI waived the customary five-year waiting period for the sainthood procedure to begin in response to popular demand that began with chants of "Santo Subito!" or "Sainthood Now!" during John Paul's funeral. AP-CS-03-30-07 1553EDT
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