Venezuela’s beloved ‘Doctor of the Poor’ to be beatified

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Caracas: With the austerity of a monk, a vocation to seek the good of others and a bright scientific mind, Jose Gregorio Hernández won the affection of those who called him “the doctor of the poor”. He became a religious icon after his death in 1919, and since then millions of Venezuelans have fervently asked that he be universally worshipped.

Now, the doctor, scientist, university professor and pioneer of bacteriology will be beatified, a step toward sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. The beatification ceremony Friday will culminate of 72 years of efforts by Venezuela’s Catholics.

Initial plans called for a ceremony at a stadium, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced organisers to change venues, limit attendance to fewer than 300 people — mostly priests and nuns — and leave the rest of the Venezuelans to watch the event on television. The pared-down event will take place in a small chapel at a Catholic school on the edge of a mountainous national park north of Caracas.

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, had been scheduled to lead Hernández’s beatification in person. But the former ambassador of the Holy See in Venezuela on Wednesday cancelled his trip to the South American nation, citing the pandemic.

Hernandez died at age 54 when he was hit by one of the few cars in Venezuela in the early 20th century. His ascent toward sainthood has been plagued with obstacles, but in the hearts of many Venezuelans, he already is a saint.

The beatification “does not change things at all … for me he has always been a saint,” said Odalis Josefina Vargas, who like millions of other Venezuelans venerate the doctor who gained fame for giving free treatment and medicines to the poor.

The worship of Hernández has spread to Spain and Portugal and to other South American nations.