Woman who served Brazil’s poorest to be canonized
Hannah Brockhaus May 14, 2019
Pope Francis Tuesday gave his approval for eight sainthood causes to proceed, including that of Blessed Dulce Lopes Pontes, a 20th-century religious sister who served Brazil’s poor.
With the pope’s approval of a second miracle attributed to her intercession, Bl. Dulce can be canonized, according to the May 14 announcement. Pope Francis approved the next steps in the causes after meeting with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Sr. Dulce was born as Maria Rita to an upper middle-class family in Salvador, Brazil in 1914. Her mother died when she was six years old. At the age of 13, an aunt took Maria Rita to see the poor area of the city, which left a strong impression on her, and from that time she began to care for the poor and beggars in her own neighborhood.
After graduating from high school at age 18, her father allowed her to join the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. For her religious name she took “Dulce,” the name of her mother.
Not long after joining the missionary sisters, Dulce became determined to shelter the many ill people she encountered on the streets of Salvador. She would house them in abandoned buildings and bring them food and medical care.
Eventually she and her more than 70 patients were kicked out of the building. Left with nowhere to take them, she asked her mother superior for help, and was given the convent’s chicken yard to turn into an improvised hotel.
As part of the agreement, Sr. Dulce was asked to care for the chickens, which she did by butchering them and feeding them to her patients.
This eventually became the site of the Santo Antonio Hospital, which continues to serve Brazil’s poor and disabled.
Bl. Dulce founded the Sao Francisco’s Worker’s Union, the first Christian worker’s movement in the Brazilian state of Bahia, which she later transformed into the Worker’s Center of Bahia.
She also founded the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce (Obras Sociais Irma Dulce) in 1959, which continues to be one of the most well-known and well-respected charitable organizations in Brazil.
In 1988, Sr. Dulce was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the President of Brazil, Jose Sarney.
She died in 1992, at the age of 77, after battling lung problems for 30 years. She met Pope John Paul II twice during her life, the second in 1990 while hospitalized. She was beatified May 22, 2011.
Pope Francis also gave his approval May 14 for the canonization of Rome-native Bl. Giuseppina Vannini, foundress of the Daughters of San Camillo (1859-1911) and for the beatification of Venerable Lucia dell’Immacolata, a sister of the Institute of the Servants of Charity (1909-1962).
Called by some “the saint of simplicity,” as a child Sr. Lucia dell’Immacolata was noted for her piety and charity. From a young age she worked in a spinning mill and factory to help her family.
After meeting the foundress of the Servants of Charity, St. Maria Crocifissa di Rosa, she joined the institute, where she devoted herself to the humble tasks of doing the shopping for the convent, accompanying the other sisters on errands, or serving the priests who stayed in the mother house for retreats.
She died from an illness in 1954 in Brescia, Italy, at the age of 45.
Those whom the pope has declared ‘Venerable’ are: Italian Giovanni Battista Pinardi, auxiliary bishop of Turin (1880-1962); Italian Carlo Salerio, a priest of the Institute of the Foreign Missions of Paris and founder of the Institute of the Sisters of Reparation (1827-1870); Spaniard Domenico Lazaro Castro, a priest of the Society of Mary (1877-1935); Brazilian Salvatore da Casca, professed of the Order of Friars Minor (1911-1971); and Italian Eufrasia Iaconis, foundress of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Immaculate Conception (1867-1916).
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