Isnot, Venezuela – Before dawn the believers began to arrive, silhouettes emanating from the thick fog, the song of birds and the church bells surrounded.
He walked the winding mountain roads, full of mud rubble and guarded posts by soldiers, to pay homage to the statue of a doctor with an outstretched hand. Due to the acute shortage of petrol, many people had to travel on foot.
Davis Vasquez arrived, presented his only son to the doctor’s statue and cried, overcome with the feeling that his boy was kind enough to show his gratitude in person.
Months earlier, Mr Vasquez had visited this place deep in the foothills of the Andes when his 14-year-old son, the goddess Rafael, lay in a coma while on life support at the government’s pediatric intensive care unit. Hospital.
A motorcycle accident had resulted in a serious head injury, and the boy’s medical team did not expect him to survive. If he defied the odds and survived, he faced a 95 percent chance of permanent brain damage.
“I could do practically nothing,” said his neurosurgeon, Dr. Edgar Altuve. “If I had the operation, he would have killed her.”
Fearing that his son would die, Mr. Vasquez drove his pickup truck to the small town of Isnota to pray in front of the large white marble statue of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández, which was widely used across the country by the “poor” of Venezuela. Known as the “Doctor of”.
For decades, Venezuelans like him have come to Isonti to ask Dr. Hernandez to heal him or his loved ones.
When devotees believe a cure is attributed to the doctor’s intervention, they offer his idol with metal strips to show their thanks. A few thousand such plaques – inscribed with messages describing successful operations and miracles – have been presented to the sanctuary since it was established in 1960. Now there is little room for more.
Born in Isnota in 1864, Dr. Hernandez studied medicine in Paris. Later, the Venezuelan government asked him to help modernize the country’s health care as both an educator and researcher.
His reputation for donating medicine and treating the most vulnerable patients in the capital Caracas for free has immortalized him in Venezuelan folklore.
He died in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic, after being hit by a car while crossing the street. He had just left the pharmacy to take medicine to an elderly woman.
The image of Dr. Hernández – a man with a mustache in a black suit, white lab coat and bowler hat – is iconic in Venezuelan culture, and appeals across the political spectrum.
Venezuelans who have lost faith in both the Maduro administration and the political opposition can agree that Dr. Hernández can meet their central need: health care, said Daniel Esparza, a doctoral fellow at Columbia University who Specializes in the role of religion in contemporary Venezuela. .
“He is a citizen who has really served other citizens, and this appears to be an ideal that is shared by both parties,” Mr Esparza said. “We’re orphans when it comes to role models – that’s when Jose Gregorio jumps in.”
Local Catholic leaders petitioned the Vatican in 1949 to bring Dr. Hernandez to the path of saints. During the decades-long wait for the Vatican to beat up the doctor, many Venezuelans were lighting candles in his name and placing his images on their personal altars. To them, he was already a saint.
Widespread reverence for the doctor is evident in Caracas, where red cinder-block huts line the hills around the Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernández General Hospital, in Catia, a working-class area to the west.
In the midst of a pandemic, and in the eighth year of a severe humanitarian and economic crisis characterized by the collapse of public hospitals and widespread drug shortages, hospital patients regularly pray to the doctor.
So do many of its health care workers.
“It’s very difficult, because sometimes you have to do more than is humanly possible,” Dr. Laura de la Rosa, who treats Covid-19 patients at the hospital. “There comes a point when you say, ‘Listen Jose Gregorio, that’s about as much as earthly doctors can give us – you help us from above and we’ll see how much more we can continue to give to this patient together’ “
In the pediatric ward, 11-year-old Gabriel Tomoche, waited for weeks to receive the scans doctors needed to diagnose a mass growing on his liver. The family members put wet cloth on his forehead and stomach, which brought down his high fever. He then helped Dr. Hernandez move them over an altar adorned with notes in the handwriting of the children.
Gabriel prayed, “Help me get out of here soon.” “I want to go home.”
In the José Gregorio Hernández barrio in Cotiza, another Caracas neighborhood, basketball-playing youths rolled up their sleeves and pant legs to show off the doctor’s tattoos.
A graphic designer and rap musician, 32-year-old Greymar Ricorte got Dr. Hernandez’s face tattooed on his leg, and said he prayed to her after being shot six times when he was the victim of a robbery. A bullet hit his lung and he almost died. He still regularly lights candles for Dr. Hernandez, saying that the doctor helped him survive.
Lucy Monasterios, 61, lives in Barrio, and works as a nurse at a government women’s clinic. She said that 38 years ago, after a month of ineffective treatment for a severe case of peritonitis, a doctor like Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernandez entered her hospital room and said, “‘Keep calm – you’ll feel better tomorrow. .'” He touched. Her forehead and stomach, she said, and then she left.
The hospital said none of its doctors had visited her at that time. But he is convinced that Dr. Hernandez did.
Soon after, Ms. Monasterios said her health was beginning to improve.
In 1986, the Vatican declared Dr. Hernandez a “venerable”, a necessary step toward sainthood.
A decade after that, desperate Venezuelans presented Pope John Paul II with a petition signed by five million people urging him to hurry with the process of thanksgiving. But it wasn’t until last summer, a century after his death, that Pope Francis finally declared Dr. Hernandez worthy.
The miracle the Vatican acknowledged to be blessed was the recovery of a 10-year-old girl, Yaxuri Solorzano Ortega, who was shot in the head and made a full recovery after her mother prayed to Dr. Hernández. then she had violated medical barriers.
Yaxury participated official blessing ceremony Spring.
Pope Francis did not attend, but he sent a video message describing Dr. Hernandez as “a model of holiness committed to the protection of life”.
The pope – an Argentine and the first pope from Latin America – said he had never met a Venezuelan “who didn’t say to me in the middle of the conversation: ‘When will Gregorio be defeated?’ He took it in his soul.”
The Pope continued: “I pray for you all, Blessed Jose Gregorio Hernandez.”
While the Vatican does not classify the recovery of the goddess Raphael as a miracle, the Vasquez family and priests in Isnot believe it was one.
He emerged from his coma and several weeks of rehabilitation with his cognitive and motor skills as before. His doctors were astonished.
“He gave me my life back,” said the goddess Raphael solemnly of Dr. Hernandez. “We should be grateful to him because he has healed me, he has healed many. And he will continue to heal.”