April 30th, 2011
04:10 PM ET
By Elizabeth Chmurak, CNN
(CNN) - Christopher Lukasik was building shelves when a metal rod hit his eye, tearing about a third of his optic nerve fibers and leaving everybody from his doctors to his family wondering whether he would ever see again.
Lukasik's mother began to pray to Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified Sunday. The ceremony at Vatican City is the penultimate step towards the late pontiff's sainthood.
"All I could think about is to pray to Pope John Paul II. I just felt him with me and I knew he would be the one that would heal my son," said 67-year-old Joanna Lukasik of Chicago, who grew up near the late pontiff's hometown of Wadowice, Poland. "I was driving to the hospital and I was begging him and crying and begging him to save his vision and that's what happened."
Doctors say he was lucky. Lukasik's mother says it was a miracle.
Lukasik's story is one of thousands of testimonials being collected through a website set up by the Diocesan Tribunal of the Vicariate of Rome. It was created to help Pope John Paul II with his candidacy for Beatification and Canonization.
More than one million people are expected in Rome this weekend for the beatification ceremony, the biggest event at Vatican City since John Paul II's death six years ago. Hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful will gather in St. Peter's Square to witness the beatification. That will mean Pope John Paul II can be referred to as "blessed" and that one miracle has been confirmed in his or her name. Another miracle is required for canonization, the formal act of declaring someone a saint.
The current pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, waived the standard five-year waiting period to put John Paul II on the fast track to sainthood. This was an extraordinary response to the millions of mourners who gathered at St. Peter's Square for the pope's funeral crying out, "Santo subito!" (Sainthood now!)
Lukasik's mother credits divine intervention by John Paul II for healing her son, Christopher, after his accident in 2007.
"I know Pope John Paul II did it for him. And that's why always in difficult times I will always pray to him because he was the one that gave me a miracle," she said during an interview with CNN at her Chicago home.
She said for three days there seemed no hope for her son's right eye, which bled continuously.
"Even the specialists couldn't tell what happened. They cannot see it, if he lost vision or not," she said.
Ophthalmology specialist, Dr. Kirk Packo, was one of those who examined the younger Lukasik at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. He said it was difficult to determine what would happen since Lukasik's eye was full of blood.
He explained that when the metal rod hit his right eye, it spun it around and tore about a third of his nerve fibers.
"Christopher was a hair close to being blind in that eye," Packo said. "He got really lucky."
But Lukasik's mother said it was a miracle, one made possible because of her strong cultural connection with the pontiff and fervent faith in his healing powers.
Joanna Lukasik grew up in John Paul's hometown of Wadowice, Poland, before immigrating to the United States in 1963.
In the 1960s, she said, she volunteered to serve meals at the Urszulanki convent in Rokiciny-Podhalanski. It was there, she says, she got to know Bishop Karol Wojtyła - who would later adopt the name John Paul II as pontiff.
"I remember Bishop Karol Wojtyła used to come to the convent and meet with his friend Bishop Bolesław Kominek," Lukasik said. "He was such a kind soul; you could feel goodness from him. But also I could sense that I was near someone that was truly close to God."
Christopher Lukasik also has own special connection to Pope John Paul II. In 2004, three years before he was nearly blinded, he met the pope during a youth trip.
"When I actually touched his hand,I did feel something I have never felt around any another human being, which in all honesty was probably my first actual spiritual experience," he said. "I could feel some sort of energy in his presence like electricity moving through my body."
Lukasik said that encounter made him realize Pope John Paul II was in the realm of a higher power. Like his mother, he believes this encounter could be the very blessing that helped him overcome his injury.
"If one person suffers trauma and another person suffers trauma, one heals better than the other. It might be a physical thing or it might be something spiritual," he said. "Going into it and actually believing in the church, I'm sure it helped me get my mind off the issues and helped my body heal more."
In the years since his eye injury, Lukasik said he thinks often about the profound impact the pope made on his life.
"I am very proud he is going to be beatified, and it couldn't have happen to a better person," he said. "Maybe people will gain some knowledge as to what he did when he was alive and all the good that he did for the world."
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.