Friday, May 11, 2007

Pope to canonize first Brazilian saint

~from AP via Lexington Herald-Leader

The Franciscan monk who will become Brazil's first native-born saint is credited with 5,000 miracle cures, but doctors are skeptical of his works and even a former Brazilian archbishiop laments the healings as fakery.

Despite the doubts, the canonization of Antonio de Sant'Anna Galvao by Pope Benedict XVI at an open-air mass on Friday is sure to please the more than 1 million Catholics expected to be in attendance.

The Vatican has officially certified the medical cases of two Brazilian women as divinely inspired miracles that justify the sainthood of Galvao.

Both of these women spoke of their faith with The Associated Press, claiming that their children would not be alive today were it not for the tiny rice-paper pills that Friar Galvao handed out two centuries ago.

Although the friar died in 1822, the tradition is carried on by Brazilian nuns who toil in the Sao Paulo monastery where Galvao is buried, preparing thousands of the Tic Tac-sized pills distributed free each day to people seeking cures for all manner of ailments. Each one is inscribed with a prayer in Latin: "After birth, the Virgin remained intact. Mother of God, intercede on our behalf."

Sandra Grossi de Almeida, 37, is one such believer. She had a uterine malformation that should have made it impossible for her to carry a child for more than four months. But in 1999, after taking the pills, she gave birth to Enzo, now 7.

"I have faith," Grossi said, pointing to her son. "I believe in God, and the proof is right here."

Nearly 10 years before that, Daniela Cristina da Silva, then 4 years old, entered a coma and suffered a heart attack after liver and kidney complications from hepatitis A.

"The doctors told me to pray because only a miracle could save her," Daniela's mother Jacyra said recently. "My sister sneaked into the intensive care unit and forced my daughter to swallow Friar Galvao's pills."

A few days later, a cured Daniela was discharged from the hospital.

But doubters remain.

"That was no miracle," said Roberto Focaccia, an infectious disease expert at the hospital where Daniela was treated. "Statistics show that an average of 50 percent of these patients die and the other 50 percent recover completely. She was lucky to be among the 50 percent who survive.

"It worries me," he added, "that so many people think that these small pieces of paper can replace the treatment available in any decent hospital in Brazil."

Even the church has skeptics.

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