The Good Angel of Bahia becomes a Saint

saint sister dulce

This afternoon, in the Vatican City, Sister Dulce Pontes will be canonized by Pope Francis, becoming Saint Dulce of the Poor—Brazil’s 37th recognized saint. After a life of charity and caring for the less fortunate, Dulce was commonly known as the “Good Angel of Bahia” and until today is venerated by a host of followers in her home town of Salvador.

Today, on The Brazilian Report, we look back at the life of one of Brazil’s most remarkable figures.

</p> <h2>Sister Dulce: from the beginning </h2> <p>Irmã Dulce was born Maria de Souza Brito Lopes Pontes, in Brazil&#8217;s holiest state capital of Salvador, in the Northeastern state of Bahia, a city known for its Bay of All Saints and strong spiritual traditions.</p> <p>Among her favorite toys, her football was her first pick. Not just a huge fan of a kickabout, little Maria was also a loyal supporter of Ypiranga Sport Club, a local team formed mainly by the working class. She confessed her love of Ypiranga in a rare televised interview in 1986.&nbsp;</p> <p>Maria’s first approximation with religion happened in 1922, when she took her first communion at the age of eight. Since then, Sister Dulce had the skill to help the needy and poor. Some called it a God-given gift, but she also came from a compassionate background.</p> <p>Her family allowed her to take in beggars and sick people at their home, which soon became a social service shelter. Given the crowd that gathered in front of the small residence, it was renamed the Portal of Saint Francis, sparking Maria&#8217;s intention to pursue a religious career.&nbsp;</p> <p>At 19 years old, Maria joined the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God in the city of São Cristóvão, Sergipe. Upon becoming a novice, Maria Rita took the name of Dulce, in honor of her mother.&nbsp;</p> <p>Throughout her life, Sister Dulce dedicated herself to the cause of helping all kinds of desperate, hungry and miserable individuals. All her social achievements were always accompanied by some level of mysticism. After being expelled from an occupied house in Salvador, she travelled around with her patients until transforming a chicken coop behind the Santo Antônio Convent as a shelter. Over time, the place became a hospital, which is today one of the largest in Brazil&#8217;s Northeast.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1980, Sister Dulce was given a special blessing from Pope John Paul II on his first visit to Brazil, which gave her the incentive to persevere with her social work. &#8220;Keep going, Sister Dulce, keep going,&#8221; he said.</p> <p>Eight years later, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, supported by former President José Sarney (1985-1990) and Queen Silvia of Sweden. Sister Dulce died in 1992, on March 13, 1992, at the age of 77.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Sweet miracle </h2> <p>Sister Dulce had the power of captivating people. Paulo Coelho, one of Brazil’s most famous writers, said on a television show that he himself had received a miracle from the country&#8217;s newest saint. Still far from his worldwide fame, young Mr. Coelho ran away from home to Bahia, yet repented and intended to return, but didn&#8217;t have any money. After meeting with Sister Dulce, she told him:&nbsp;</p> <p>“I don&#8217;t have money either, but I have this, take it. It&#8217;s worth two tickets to Rio. Go to the bus station and give them this piece of paper,” he recalls. Holding back the tears, Coelho said that the written note led him to Rio.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I realized that day that the woman had the power that is not given by anyone but by God. No one said no to her, and she followed Christ&#8217;s words.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite these unofficial wonders, to become a saint, Sister Dulce required two miracles to be validated by the Catholic Church. Musician and maestro José Maurício Bragança Moreira was second, in 2014, after being cured from his glaucoma-related blindness. </p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="sister dulce canonization" class="wp-image-25807" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></figure> <p>“I was blind in both eyes and at a moment of great pain I saw the image of Sister Dulce. I took to my eyes and asked her to relieve my pain. A few hours later my eye began to see again. She gave me so much more than I asked, because seeing again was impossible,” he told <em>Vatican News</em>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The first of Ms. Dulce’s holy acts happened in 2001, with the survival of a pregnant mother in the state of Sergipe. In January of that year, Cláudia Cristiane dos Santos had just given birth to her second child when severe internal bleeding set in.&nbsp;</p> <p>From that moment on, Ms. Dos Santos underwent three surgeries lasting a total of 28 hours. By that time, doctors said she had little chance of survival. There was nothing else medically they could do.&nbsp;</p> <p>But Father José Almi de Menezes, present at the birth, continued praying. The priest, who was devoted to the “Good Angel of Bahia,” asked for an image of Sister Dulce to be put next to the sick mother. He then begged Sister Dulce to heal Claudia and the bleeding stopped, later being recognized as a miracle by the Vatican.</p> <p>Claudia’s case was studied by 16 doctors (10 from Brazil and six from Italy), and none found any medical reason for the mother’s survival and fast recovery.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Brazil&#8217;s other saints</h2> <p>While Brazil now has a <a href="">total of 37 saints</a>, only two were actually born in the country. Irmã Dulce is one, and Saint Anthony of St. Ann Galvão—commonly known as Frei Galvão—is the other.</p> <p>Frei Galvão lived during the tail end of Brazil&#8217;s colonial period and was renowned for his healing powers. He entered the church as a novice at the age of 16, being ordained seven years later and transferred to São Paulo.</p> <p>It was believed that <a href="">Frei Galvão</a> could heal the sick by giving them paper &#8220;pills,&#8221; which were small Latin verses rolled up tightly and ingested by the infirm individual. This tradition was maintained by his devoted followers long after his death and resulted in the two miracles attributed to the saint. </p> <p>In 1990, four-year-old Daniella Cristina da Silva was cured of apparently terminal hepatitis after her parents prayed to Frei Galvão and gave their child a paper pill. In 1999, after taking her own pill, Sandra Grossi de Almeida gave birth to a baby boy despite having a malformed uterus which should have made it impossible for her to carry to term. Frei Galvão was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.</p> <p>The first female Brazilian to be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church was Austro-Hungarian born Saint Pauline of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus, who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and spent close to her entire life in southern Brazil.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall. Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”