Nobel Nominee to Be Beatified Sunday

Sister Dulce Called the Most Admired Woman in Brazil’s History

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By Carmen Elena Villa

SALVADOR DA BAHIA, Brazil, MAY 19, 2011 ( Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes is the most admired woman in the history of Brazil, according to a newspaper of São Paulo. This Sunday, the nun who died less than 20 years ago will be recognized as Blessed Dulce.

«Every saint is an example of Christ, as was Sister Dulce. She dedicated herself every day throughout her life to the poor and the suffering,» said Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo, the retired archbishop of her native Salvador da Bahia, when he learned of her beatification.

The cardinal will represent Benedict XVI in presiding over the beatification of this 1988 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who was twice visited by another blessed, Pope John Paul II (in 1980 and 1991).

The future nun was born in 1914 and baptized Maria Rita. Her mother died when she was 6 and her aunts brought her up. At 13, one of her aunts took her to see the poorest areas of the city, an event that awakened her great sensitivity. Thus, at 18 she entered the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, where she took the name Sister Dulce.

One of the inspirations for her vocation was the life of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. «I think I am like the little love of my small heart, that no matter how much love it has, it is little for such a great God,» wrote Sister Dulce when she entered the convent. Like «St. Thérèse, I think that the Child Jesus is pleased with all little acts of love no matter how small they are.»

Love turned into works

Her little acts of love were translated into great social works. Sister Dulce founded the St. Francis Union of Workers. Then she began to shelter sick persons in abandoned houses of Salvador da Bahia. When they were evicted, she moved her shelter to an old fish market, but the municipality obliged her to leave that site too.

The only place she could receive more than 70 people who needed medical care was the chicken coop of the convent where she lived. The coop soon became an improvised hospital.

Thus began the history of another of her foundations: St. Anthony’s Hospital, which was opened officially in May of 1959, with 150 beds; now it cares for 3,000 patients daily.

Today her foundations are known as Sister Dulce’s Social Works, with the acronym OSID (Obras Sociais Irmã Dulce). It functions as a private charitable entity under Brazilian law.

In the last 30 years of her life, Sister Dulce’s health declined. She had only 30% of her respiratory capacity. In 1990 she began to worsen and was hospitalized for 16 months. While there she received a visit from John Paul II, with whom she had had a private audience 10 years earlier.

She was transferred to St. Anthony’s convent where she died on March 13, 1992. Thousands of men and women in conditions of extreme poverty gathered for a last farewell before her mortal remains.

Last year her body was taken to the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, where it was found to be incorrupt.

The miracle for her beatification happened in 2001 when Cláudia Cristiane Santos, who today is 42, survived an uncontrolled hemorrhage after giving birth. The bleeding continued despite three operations. Doctors lost all hope that she would survive but when her relatives asked for the intercession of Sister Dulce, in a chain of prayer led by Father José Almí de Menezes, the bleeding stopped immediately.

This event was the confirmation of Sister Dulce’s virtuous life, centered on prayer and charity in little things. «Love overcomes all obstacles, all sacrifices,» Sister Dulce used to say.

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