ROME (AP) - Pope John Paul II has touched many lives, and the Catholic church may officially make him a saint. Preparations for his beatification - the last formal step before possible sainthood - got under way in an official capacity Friday morning. John Paul's tomb was opened and his sealed casket removed for public viewing starting Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica.
The simple white marble tombstone that had marked John Paul's resting place in the grottoes underneath the basilica will be sent to a new church dedicated to him in Krakow, the Vatican said.
Eighty-seven official delegations have confirmed their presence at the ceremony, including 16 heads of state, six heads of government and members of five royal houses, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.
With his landmark actions, Pope John Paul II strove throughout his 27-year papacy to overcome the tortured two-millennia history of Catholic-Jewish relations. He visited Rome's main synagogue, began diplomatic relations with Israel and sent a handwritten plea asking forgiveness for Christian persecution left at Judaism's holiest site in Jerusalem.
In a sign of appreciation for those efforts, some in the crowd at his beatification Sunday in St. Peters's Square will be Jews, including an Israeli Cabinet minister who lost most of his family in the Holocaust but was hidden by a Belgium family who raised himas a Christian.
"We have a high respect, a unique respect for John Paul," Yossi Peled, a retired Israeli general, said Friday. "He is not just another pope for us."
John Paul is a special pope for Fatima Aybar as well. She credits him with what she calls a miraculous healing. Nine years ago, Aybar got sick and was diagnosed with Lupus.Despite years of medication, she still suffered.
When the pope died in 2005, Aybar began what's called a Novena -- nine days of prayer asking the Pope to intercede for her with God for a cure. On the ninth day, she says, "all of my pain was gone! And then i feel a lot of warm I feel it go pass through me."
Aybar fell to her kness and began to cry. "I said, thank you! You cured me!" she said.Blood tests showed no sign of lupus. Aybar certainly believes it was a miracle.
"We know that there is a faithful person, we know that Jesus can do so much -- we leave it in his hands," said Ronald Jamison of St. Matthew's cathedral, the church where Aybar volunteers. While Sunday's ceremony is only a step toward official sainthood, Aybar says for her, Pope John Paul already is a saint.
With reporting from the Associated Press and ABC7's Greta Kreuz.