Pope Benedict has canonized an 18th-century Brazilian monk who is credited with helping to cure thousands of people of physical ailments. In Sao Paulo, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that about one million people gathered for the ceremony.
Pope Benedict led the canonization ceremony for Antonio de Sant'Anna Galvao who becomes the first Brazilian-born saint in the Roman Catholic church. Brazilian bishops recounted the history of the Franciscan monk, who died in 1822 at the age of 83 after founding several monasteries and convents in the country.
Galvao is best known for distributing prayers written on tiny strips of paper, which church members swallowed, hoping the so-called prayer pills would cure their illnesses. The prayer pills are still distributed at the Monastery of Light, where people place donations in a revolving window for the nuns who work inside.
Wesley Luis Carvalhaes traveled to Sao Paulo from central Brazil for the pope's visit and to collect prayer pills for himself, his mother and an aunt. He says he learned about Galvao from a colleague at the Catholic high school where he teaches.
He says Galvao's reputation began to spread after his prayer pills reportedly cured a woman who was experiencing problems in pregnancy.
Carvalhaes says Galvao has been credited with nearly 24,000 miracles. In making the case to the Vatican for sainthood, Galvao's supporters documented two specific cases of women who said they were cured of illnesses in the 1990s.
Still, many Catholic faithful in Brazil are unfamiliar with the Franciscan monk. The attention raised by the canonization may change that, says Reverend Terence Hogan, rector of St. Mary's Cathedral in Miami.
"Even though this man lived, not this century, but some hundreds of years ago, he still was very important in the history of the country because people would know who he is, and he had a profound effect on the faith and the culture of the country," he said.
Reverend Hogan says in many cases, the rigorous process of certifying events and details in the life of a person being considered for sainthood helps to raise awareness about key figures in the Roman Catholic church.
At the Monastery of Light, demand for Galvao's paper pills jumped following his beatification in 1997, and again this year.
Cleide Souza Fidelli, who regularly comes to mass at the monastery's church, says she was surprised by the attention recently.
She says a long line of people were waiting to receive their prayer pills when she came to the church last month, which is something she had not seen in the past four years.
The canonization ceremony is a key part of Pope Benedict's five-day trip to Brazil, where he is trying to reconnect with the nation's Catholic majority. Church officials are struggling to slow the pace of Catholics converting to pentecostal churches and other Christian faiths.