Religion

Jose Gregorio awaits beatification as unifying figure in divided Venezuela

By Gonzalo Dominguez Loeda

Caracas, Apr 28 (EFE).- “That night I was in bed and I saw him come in (my room).” Approaching the Caracas church where the remains of Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernandez rest in a humble casket, one can hear conversations that begin like this – about the man who will be beatified later this week – and end with the definitive statement that “Dr. Hernandez cured me.”

It’s an experience that unites many Venezuelans more than any flag or banner could.

“He came with a pencil. I remained right there, it was him, he had a pencil that was like a lantern and he began to shine it in my eyes. I knew that it was him … After that, I remained asleep and when the doctors came to see me I was fine and they didn’t do the operation,” Jose Alberto Torrealba told EFE before emphasizing: “It was him.”

Jose Alberto has his own miracle to report, but he’s not the only one. Faith, science or perhaps something in between that is a link for the faithful.

So, Venezuelans – whether they were born in the country or arrived in different immigration waves – first ask the soon to be beatified doctor to heal them and then they consult with a doctor. Or perhaps the other way around.

Jose Alberto is convinced that Hernandez, who was a practicing physician and was called “the doctor of the poor,” interceded on his behalf to see to it that he did not require surgery. And so, pandemic or not, he comes to the church to pray to him.

Behind the doors of the Our Lady of La Candelaria church in downtown Caracas rest the remains of the man who on Friday will be beatified. Outside, there is no let-up in the arrival of the faithful, both Catholic and otherwise, who approach the church – which is closed due to Covid-19 – to express their thanks to Hernandez.

They stand for several minutes before the church, where story after story can be heard from many of them, accounts of faith for the believer and of science for the skeptic.

Inside the church, construction workers are laboring against the clock to tidy things up for the upcoming ceremony after months of lockdown and, when it reopens, many believers will not recognize the ostentation put in place for the Vatican ceremony. Outside, Hernandez is a saint to many people, especially the poor to whom he seems almost like a St. Peter figure.

“For me, Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernandez is divine, he’s a saint … God has already beatified him and … now the Church is doing what it needs to because he earned it,” said Jose Castillo Rojas, another person who has included coming to the church in his daily routine.

Both Catholics and non-Catholics, it seems, have integrated Hernandez (who died in 1919) into their rituals, including Santeria practitioners, faith healers, mediums and others.

Osmary Santos, standing in one corner of the plaza outside the church, talks about her own “miracle” when Hernandez helped her to recover after an epileptic attack that prevented her from walking.

“I had a dream about him. He was encasing my whole body in plaster and he told me that in three days I’d be cured. I woke up that day, my uncle asked me if I needed to go to the bathroom. I told him yes, but I asked him to wait and I was going to go and (I realized) I was walking,” she said.

Santos said that she was not used to going to church but she would definitely be going when it reopens to thank Hernandez to thank him for her personal miracle.

People come to the church to pray, as if they were talking to Hernandez like an old friend or with their trusted doctor, without fear of Covid-19.

When he was alive, Hernandez treated people who had come down with the Spanish flu and many people here are sure that he will help end the coronavirus pandemic, and if they get sick Jose Gregorio will be at their bedsides to heal them.

EFE

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