Okay, so Mother’s Day is just around the corner, so this post goes out to She Who Brought Me Into The World. Having already established herself as the foremost (okay, only) Arab nationalist in the Middle States, the Giver of Life has abandoned such profane matters and taken an earnest, but somewhat comic (earnest + comic = cute) interest in phenomena Islamica. So I was thinking of her and our many talks on the historical relationship between religion and politics when I read this most hilarious article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription only) about the Pontiff’s recent trip to Brazil:
As the first Brazilian-born saint, Friar Galvão is big news here. The country’s leading newsmagazines have run depictions of the friar on their covers, and the faithful have been snapping up tens of thousands of “Friar Galvão pills,” small capsules nuns produce that are said to have miraculous properties. The government considered declaring a national holiday in honor of the new saint but scrapped the idea for fear of slowing economic growth. Brazil has so many official and unofficial religious holidays already, even the country’s Roman Catholic bishops opposed the notion.
The pontiff’s visit — the 80-year-old’s first trip to Latin America since he became pope two years ago — comes at a critical moment for the church here. Although Brazil has more Catholics than any other country in the world, around 125 million, Catholicism here is in a quickening decline. About 74% of people said they were Catholic in a 2000 census, down from 89% in 1980.
The losses are coming mostly at the hands of evangelical Protestant congregations, primarily Pentecostal churches, despite Catholics’ efforts to compete. In the 1970s, the church became politically active, resisting Brazil’s military dictatorship and reaching out to the poor. More recently, it has encouraged “charismatic Catholicism,” whose practitioners hold evangelical-inspired revivals, speak in tongues and even carry out exorcisms. It has also given its blessing to Marcelo Rossi, a singing priest who does aerobics during mass and has sold millions of albums.
Sister Cadorin had to work 16 years for the Vatican to recognize Friar Galvão’s miracles. She looked through 23,929 purported miracles to identify a second case, involving a difficult pregnancy by a woman living in Brasilia. The nun says she had to obtain expert medical opinions, hire theologians, and prepare fancy presentations to send to officials in Rome. “The first miracle cost $95,000, and the second cost me between €45,000 and €50,000 [about $60,000 to $68,000],” she says. The money was raised through donations.
The São Paulo nunnery founded by Friar Galvão has been drawing crowds, and demand for his pills has soared. They are swallowed but they don’t actually contain medicine, rather, prayers written on tiny slips of paper. According to the Rev. Armênio Rodrigues Nogueira, a priest who works at the convent, the nuns’ production of pills has jumped from 3,000 a week to 30,000 since the Vatican announced the new saint in December.
Lucila Ortonho and Odita Ponte, São Paulo housewives, say they have visited the convent three times since then to pick up pills through a rotating wooden door, behind which unseen nuns dispense them. “I believe because his miracles were proved by the church,” says Ms. Ponte, 60, who said she was praying for good health.
Father Nogueira says the faithful can also request the miracle pills through the convent’s Internet site.
It is all about retail, mom. Here, there, everywhere … So in that spirit and on “Mother’s Day,” you can know I love you because the card is in the mail … 🙂