Matilde Alves Ponte, a blind woman, told IPS that "I can't see, but my heart feels everything. It's such a strong emotion that even if I could see, I wouldn't be able to explain it."
Another black woman of humble appearance made a different kind of effort, travelling all the way from Barretos, 440 km from Sao Paulo, because "it was very important to be here."
Friar Galvao "always listened to the people, and built churches for black people," another Afro-Brazilian, Miriam Expedita Caetano, told IPS, explaining why she went to the airfield at such an early hour, despite the cold.
She said that after she suffered three strokes and had lost her ability to move, "I was able to walk again" thanks to Friar Galvao's "miracle pills."
The canonization of the first Brazilian saint will strengthen Catholicism in Brazil, helping the Roman Catholic Church to draw people back into the fold, said other people attending the mass. Brazil deserved a saint, was another argument voiced by many.
Until now, the country with the largest number of Catholics in the world only had Saint Paulina (1865-1942), an Italian-born nun who worked among the poor in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina and in Sao Paulo and who was canonized in 2002.
Galvao, who was born in 1739 in Guaratingueta, 178 km from Sao Paulo, and died in 1822, built the Monastery of Light -- today a United Nations world heritage site -- in Sao Paulo in which nuns distribute thousands of Friar Galvao pills every day.
The belief in the miracle pills -- tiny pieces of rice paper printed with prayers, that people swallow -- arose from Friar Galvao's practice of reportedly healing people by giving them small pieces of paper rolled into pills, containing written prayers.
His canonization was based on two recent cases. In 1990, a four-year-old girl suffering from severe liver and kidney problems caused by hepatitis recovered against all odds after swallowing the miracle pills. And in 1999, a woman with a uterine malformation that had led to three miscarriages gave birth in what the Vatican called a "scientifically inexplicable" case after taking the pills and praying to Friar Galvao.
Galvao is the tenth saint proclaimed by Benedict since he became pope in April 2005. He is apparently following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II (1978-2005), who named 483 saints in his 26 years in the papacy, more than any other pontiff in history.
Analysts say it is clear that the Church is following a strategy to canonize saints to win over or hold onto adherents. Benedict decided to hold the ceremony in Sao Paulo, instead of in the Vatican, as is traditional, as a gesture towards Brazil, where more than 90 percent of the population was Catholic in 1970 -- a proportion that had fallen to 73.6 percent in 2000, when the last census was carried out.
But activists say it will be difficult for Saint Galvao to curb the loss of faithful if the Church continues to preach such a strict moral code. On Thursday, the pope told tens of thousands of young Catholics gathered in a stadium that they should avoid premarital sex and defend life "from the very start" -- recommendations that he repeated on Friday at the canonization mass.
In his address to Brazil's bishops, with whom he met on Friday afternoon, Benedict condemned "crimes against life in the name of the right to individual freedom" -- a reference to abortion -- and called the defense of "the wound of divorce and free unions" as an attack on "human dignity."
"The Church is distancing itself from people's day-to-day reality with its radical and intransigent stance which forces Catholics to have double standards" by disobeying the norms handed down by the Church leadership, Dulce Xavier, an activist with Catholics for a Free Choice (CCD-Br), told IPS.
The Church is trying to "impose increasingly strict rules" in an "authoritarian attempt to impose total control over the body, feelings and even relationships among people," without listening to the faithful, while setting itself "above the institutions" of the state, complained the activist, who is Catholic but defends the sexual and reproductive rights of women, including freedom of choice when it comes to abortion.
Xavier complained that the Church, which she said is unable to get even its own faithful to follow its moral code, is trying to impose its views by "manipulating the state" -- attempting, for example, to make religious instruction mandatory in schools, thereby "meddling in national sovereignty."
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Albion Monitor May
10, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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