The parents of a Brazilian boy whose recovery from a severe brain injury is being cited by the Vatican as the "miracle" needed to canonize two Portuguese children broke their silence Thursday to share the story.
Joao Baptista and his wife, Lucila Yurie, appeared before reporters at the Catholic shrine in Fatima, Portugal, on the eve of Pope Francis' arrival. Francis will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the so-called Fatima visions of the Virgin Mary by canonizing two of the three Portuguese children who experienced them.
The "miracle" required for the canonization concerns the case of little Lucas Baptista, whose story has to date been shrouded in secrecy.
His father said Thursday that in 2013, when Lucas was 5, the boy fell 6.5 meters (21 feet) from a window at the family's home in Brazil while playing with his infant sister, Eduarda.
The ambulance ride to the hospital took an hour, and when Lucas arrived he was in a coma and had suffered two heart attacks, Baptista said. During emergency surgery, doctors diagnosed a severe traumatic brain injury and a "loss of brain material" from the child's frontal lobe.
Doctors said Lucas had little chance of survival, and that if he did live, he would be severely mentally disabled or even in a vegetative state, the father recalled.
Baptista said he and his wife, as well as Brazilian Carmelite nuns, prayed to the late shepherd children who said the Virgin Mary had appeared to them in "visions" in 1917. Two of those children, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto, will become the Catholic Church's youngest non-martyred saints on Saturday.
The third child, Lucia dos Santos, Francisco and Jacinta's cousin, became a Carmelite nun. Efforts are underway to beatify her, too, but couldn't begin until after she died in 2005.
Joao Baptista, wearing a blue shirt and tie as he read a statement at the Fatima shrine and took occasional pauses to compose himself, said doctors removed tubes from his son six days after Lucas' fall.
"He was fine when he woke up, lucid, and started talking, asking for his little sister," Baptista said. After another six days, Lucas was released from the hospital.
"He's completely fine ... with no aftereffects. Lucas is just like he was before the accident," his father said. "The doctors ... said they couldn't explain his recovery."
Journalists were not allowed to ask questions.
Sister Angela Coelho, the Portuguese postulator who led the project to canonize the shepherd children, said her office was informed of the Brazil story about three months after it happened.
She said officials had to wait and see whether the boy's recovery was complete before presenting the case to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The recovery must be medically inexplicable.
"We thank God for Lucas' cure and we know in all faith from our heart that this miracle was obtained with the help of the little shepherd children Francisco and Jacinta," Baptista said. "We feel immense joy to know that this was the miracle that led to this canonization, but mostly we feel blessed by the friendship of these two children that helped our boy and now help our family."
Jacinta Marto was 7 and Francisco Marto 9 when they first witnessed the apparitions on May 13, 1917, along with their 10-year-old cousin. They both died two years later during the Spanish flu pandemic,
The Fatima basilica and the vast square in front of it, where 1 million people are expected to attend the canonization Mass, were filling up with pilgrims Thursday as rain fell. Huge images of the future saints hung from the sides of the basilica.
The pontiff was due to arrive in Fatima on Friday afternoon.