TRES RIOS, Costa Rica (AP) — On a warm spring day, Floribeth Mora was in her bed waiting to die from a seemingly inoperable brain aneurysm when her gaze fell upon a photograph of Pope John Paul II in a newspaper.
“Stand up,” Mora recalls the image of the pope saying to her. “Don’t be afraid.”
Mora, her doctors and the Catholic Church say her aneurysm disappeared that day in a miracle that cleared the way for the late pope to be declared a saint on April 27 in a ceremony at the Vatican where Mora will be a guest of honor.
For Mora, the church-certified miracle was only the start of her metamorphosis from an ill and desperate woman into an adored symbol of faith for thousands of Costa Ricans and Catholics around the world.
Mora, 50, has been greeting a stream of local and international visitors in her modest home in a middle-class neighborhood outside the Costa Rican capital, and accepts invitations to as many as four Masses a day. The faithful have given her so many letters to deliver to current pontiff Pope Francis that she has had to buy an extra suitcase.
Mora has suspended her late-in-life law studies and much of her work for her family security business to dedicate herself full-time to her role as a symbol of faith for many in Costa Rica.
“With all of this going on I appreciate having my own business, because if I had a boss, they would have already fired me for missing so much work,” she joked.
She says she ignores skeptics who doubt she was really healed.
“Everyone can think what they want,” she told The Associated Press during a visit to her home. “What I know is that I am healthy.”
Mora was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and sent home to rest and take pain medication in April 2011 after doctors said the problem was inoperable. Mora, who thought she was simply returning home to await death, looked at the image of John Paul on May 1, the day of John Paul’s beatification six years after his death.
Then, she says, it spoke to her.
She surprised her family by walking around, and, after her doctors declared her healed, word spread quickly to the local church, and from there to the Vatican.
Today, Mora says speaking about her experience has become her calling.
“I’ve got so much to do that I’m going to dedicate myself above all to telling the world the story of God’s greatness and what it’s done for me,” she said.
She says people sometimes ask whether the experience was somehow imagined, or the result of mental illness.
“I have no reason to doubt what I am. I am healthy and that’s the most important thing,” said Mora, the daughter of a shoemaker and a seamstress, born in a tough neighborhood south of San Jose.
Grandchildren run through the narrow halls of the home she shares with her husband, a retired police officer. Images of John Paul, the infant Jesus and the Virgin Mary look down from the walls of virtually every room.
The back garden smells of the oregano and rosemary she grows for cooking, and is shared by a pair of roosters, three rabbits and some ducks. Her 15-year-old son, the youngest of three, tells her off occasionally for attending so many Masses.
“I have to be there,” she said.
Mora is often overwhelmed by the petitions for prayer the faithful ask her to take to Francis.
“I have to buy a special suitcase for those letters, because some of them are big packages,” she said. Mora said she is filled with excitement for meeting the pope, whom she admires for his humility and the changes he’s made in the church.
While she looks tired, she says she feels great, and none of the symptoms that she felt brought her to the brink of death three years ago have returned. She has no doubt that she owes her life to John Paul.
“It’s important for them to name him a saint, but for me he’s already a saint,” she said. “I never imagined I would become a part of all of this.”
Michael Weissenstein in Mexico City contributed to this report.