- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2007

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Pope Benedict XVI yesterday canonized an 18th-century monk — a friar who handed out tiny rice-paper pills inscribed with a prayer — as Brazil’s first native-born saint while hundreds of thousands cheered and waved flags from all corners of South America.

Holding up Friar Antonio de Sant’Anna Galvao as a model of rectitude and humility “in an age so full of hedonism,” the pope said the world needs clear souls and pure minds, adding: “It is necessary to oppose those elements of the media that ridicule the sanctity of marriage and virginity before marriage.”

It was a message that reflected the pope’s uneasiness with the effects of popular culture on young people. He has warned that some video games and animated films promote violence and trivialize sexuality.

Benedict was seated on a throne of Brazilian hardwood and surrounded by Latin American bishops and choirs of hundreds as he pronounced the sainthood of Galvao, a Franciscan monk who is credited by the church with 5,000 miracle cures.

The canonization makes Galvao the first native-born saint from the world’s largest Roman Catholic country, home to more than 120 million of the planet’s 1.1 billion Catholics.

“Do you realize how big this is?” asked Herminia Fernandes, who joined the multitude that jammed an airfield for a Mass. “It’s huge. This pope is visiting Brazil for the first time, and at the same time, he is giving us a saint. It’s a blessing.”

Galvao is the 10th saint Benedict has canonized, and the ceremony was the first such held outside Rome.

Galvao, who died in 1822, began a tradition among Brazilian Catholics of handing out tiny rice-paper pills inscribed with a Latin prayer to people seeking cures for everything from cancer to kidney stones.

Although doctors and even some Catholic clergy dismiss the pills as placebos or superstitious fakery, cloistered nuns still toil in the Sao Paulo monastery where Galvao is buried, preparing thousands of the Tic Tac-size pills for free daily distribution. Each one carries these words: “After birth, the Virgin remained intact. Mother of God, intercede on our behalf.”

After canonizing Galvao, the pope hugged Sandra Grossi de Almeida, 37, and her son, Enzo, 7. She is one of two Brazilian women certified by the Vatican as having received divinely inspired miracles justifying the sainthood. She had a uterine malformation that should have made it impossible for her to carry a child for more than four months, but after taking the pills, she gave birth to Enzo.

Benedict’s trip so far has focused on reinforcing church doctrine on abortion, sexual morality and euthanasia. At a rally Thursday night, he instructed young Catholics to avoid premarital sex, remain faithful once they are married and promote life from “its beginning to natural end.”

The latter was — at least in part — a reference to abortion, the issue that has dominated the pontiff’s first visit to Latin America since he became pope two years ago.

The pope will visit a drug treatment center today at the shrine city of Aparecida, about 100 miles from Sao Paulo, and open a conference of Latin American and Caribbean bishops tomorrow.

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