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, recalling 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 had suffered from Parkinson’s recounted how she was cured after praying to John Paul, who also 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 today during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.

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 death on April 2, 2005.

Benedict was responding to chants of “Santo Subito” or “Sainthood Immediately” which erupted during John Paul’s funeral.

The vigil was to last all night, a so-called “white night” of prayer to be continued in eight churches kept open in the city center before barricades around St. Peter’s Square open to pilgrims at 5:30 a.m. local time for the 10 a.m. beatification Mass.

The beatification is taking place despite a steady drumbeat of criticism about the record-fast speed with which John Paul is being honored, and continued outrage about the clerical abuse scandal: Many of the crimes and cover-ups of priests who molested children occurred on John Paul’s 27-year watch.

“I hope he didn’t know about the pedophiles,” said Sister Maria Luisa Garcia, a Spanish nun attending the vigil. “If he did, it was an error. But no one is perfect, only God.”

At the very least, she said, the church had learned as a result of the scandal, “that a person’s dignity, especially a child’s, is more important than the church’s image.”

Video montages shown during the vigil showed various scenes of John Paul’s lengthy pontificate, his teachings about marriage and justice.

One of the first shown was of his final Easter, when he was unable to speak from his studio window, too hobbled by Parkinson’s, and only managed a weak blessing of the crowd.

Sister Marie, the French nun, said that at the time she couldn’t bear to watch John Paul’s condition worsen because she knew his slow decline would be her fate.

“In him, I was reminded of what I was living through,” she told the crowd. “But I always admired his humility, his strength, his courage.”

Wearing her simple white habit and a black cardigan, she recounted to the crowd her now well-known tale: She said that on June 2, 2005 she told her superior she felt she could no longer continue her work helping new mothers because her Parkinson’s symptoms had worsened and she had little strength left.

Her superior, she said, told her that “John Paul II hasn’t had the last word” and that she should pray.

She said she woke up the following morning “feeling something had changed in me.” She said she went to the chapel and prayed. “I wasn’t the same. I knew I had been cured.”