BRASILIA, Brazil – As her 8-year-old son, Enzzo, played on the balcony of her apartment, Sandra Grossi de Almeida held up an X-ray picture that she said proved that his very existence was a miracle.
The chemist pointed to a black wedge that she said was a wall of tissue dividing her uterus, a malformation that should have made it impossible for her to carry a baby for more than four months. Yet Enzzo grew for seven months in a space about half the size of a normal uterus until he was delivered by Caesarean section.
Grossi de Almeida attributes the miracle of her son’s birth to a paper "pill" inscribed with a prayer that she ate during her pregnancy. The Vatican agrees, pronouncing Enzzo one of the two miracles needed to declare the creator of the pills, an 18th-century Franciscan monk named Antonio de Sant’Anna Galvao, a saint.
The May 11 canonization of Galvao, Brazil’s first native-born saint, will be the centerpiece event when Pope Benedict XVI visits Brazil next month. Many say it also will be a watershed in the Roman Catholic Church’s battle to fight the loss of adherents to fast-growing Pentecostal churches.
Galvao’s pills reportedly have cured thousands of Brazilians of everything from depression to hepatitis. His elevation to sainthood will be long-delayed recognition of what many believe is an ongoing miracle that’s saved – or bettered – lives for more than two centuries.
Galvao’s pills contain this prayer: "After the birth, the Virgin remained intact / Mother of God, intercede on our behalf." They’re assembled in five locations around Sao Paulo state, including by women in Galvao’s hometown of Guaratingueta, who gather every afternoon in a room above the local cathedral. The pills also are made by cloistered nuns at the Convent of Light in Sao Paulo, where Galvao died in 1832 at age 83.
Believers swallow three seed-sized pills over nine days, during which they recite the prayer printed on the paper.
"It’s a vehicle of faith," said Grossi de Almeida, who miscarried twice, including losing twins, before Enzzo was born. "You take the pills, and you believe in them, you believe they will make you better, and you become stronger in your faith. You know there’s a God that helps you."