Pope Canonizes First Brazilian Saint

Pope Benedict XVI is cheered by the faithful as he arrives in Campo de Marte, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May 11, 2007. AP

Pope Benedict XVI canonized an 18th-century Franciscan monk as Brazil's first native-born saint Friday as hundreds of thousands cheered and waved flags from all corners of South America.

Surrounded by Latin American bishops and choirs of hundreds, Benedict sat on a throne of Brazilian hardwood as he pronounced the sainthood of Antonio de Sant'Anna Galvao, an 18th-century Franciscan monk who is credited by the church with 5,000 miracle cures.

The canonization makes Galvao the first native-born saint from the world's largest Roman Catholic country, home to more than 120 million of the planet's 1.1 billion Catholics.

"Do you realize how big this is?" asked Herminia Fernandes, who joined the multitude that jammed an airfield for the open-air Mass. "It's huge, this pope is visiting Brazil for the first time and at the same time he is giving us a saint. It's a blessing."

Friar Galvao, who died in 1822, began a tradition among Brazilian Catholics of handing out tiny rice-paper pills, inscribed with a Latin prayer, to people seeking cures for everything from cancer to kidney stones.

Although doctors and even some Catholic clergy dismiss the pills as placebos or superstitious fakery, cloistered nuns still toil in the Sao Paulo monastery where Galvao is buried, preparing thousands of the Tic Tac-sized pills for free daily distribution. Each one carries these words: "After birth, the Virgin remained intact. Mother of God, intercede on our behalf."

After canonizing Friar Galvao, the pope hugged Sandra Grossi de Almeida, 37, and her son Enzo, 7. She is one of two Brazilian women certified by the Vatican as divinely inspired miracles justifying the sainthood. She had a uterine malformation that should have made it impossible for her to carry a child for more than four months, but after taking the pills, she gave birth to Enzo.

"I have faith," Grossi explained in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "I believe in God, and the proof is right here."

Galvao is the 10th saint Benedict has canonized, and the first such ceremony held outside Rome. It continues a push for saints in Latin America and elsewhere in the developing world that began under John Paul II, who sought role models as part of the church's worldwide reach. John Paul canonized more saints than all of his predecessors combined.

Benedict's trip has so far focused on reinforcing church doctrine on abortion, sexual morality and euthanasia. At a large youth rally Thursday night, he instructed young Catholics to avoid premarital sex, remain faithful once they are married and to promote life from "its beginning to natural end."

The latter was — at least in part — a reference to abortion, the issue that has dominated Benedict's first visit to Latin America since he became pope two years ago.

And while Benedict made no mention Thursday of the church's battle against Brazil's free distribution of condoms to combat AIDS, he called for fidelity between spouses and chastity "both within and outside marriage" — church language for responsible sex.

"Seek to resist forcefully the snares of evil that are found in many contexts," he told the young Catholics, who cheered loudly when he mentioned his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, who visited Brazil three times.

They also shouted, "I love you," when Benedict finished talking.

The pope also warned against drug use, violence, corruption and the temptations of wealth and power — themes sure to resonate across the region. His condemnation of the "devastation of the environment of the Amazon Basin" was particularly important in Brazil, where Catholic activists have been working with the landless — at times at odds with the Vatican.

The pope heads Friday evening to the shrine city of Aparecida, about 160 kilometers from Sao Paulo, where he will visit a drug treatment center Saturday and open a conference of Latin American and Caribbean bishops on Sunday.

Aparecida is the most important Catholic religious site in Brazil, home to the mammoth Basilica of Aparecida and the three-foot tall statue of a black Virgin Mary called "Our Lady Who Appeared," the patron saint of Brazil.

The statue was pulled from a river in the 18th century by poor fishermen who were not catching any fish, and then caught loads in their nets. Miracles were subsequently attributed to the statue, and so many pilgrims flocked to Aparecida that the church built the basilica and inaugurated it as a shrine in 1955.

By Victor L. Simpson
  • Lloyd Vries

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