Venezuelans Seek Sainthood For Beloved Folk Hero, José Gregorio Hernández

ISNOTÚ, Venezuela — Venezuela needs a miracle. Preferably two. But this is not about finding a way to reconcile the country’s bitterly divided politics or fix its crippled economy. It is about something more spiritual.

The Roman Catholic Church here is on a mission to document a miracle that can be attributed to one of the country’s most popular folk heroes: José Gregorio Hernández.

Born in this small town in the foothills of the Andes on Oct. 26, 1864, Dr. Hernández spent much of his life in Caracas, the capital, where he studied and practiced medicine and became known as “the doctor of the poor” because he routinely treated needy patients for free.

He died in 1919, run over by a car at a time when only a few hundred automobiles traveled the streets of Caracas. He was so beloved that newspaper accounts at the time reported that the city was left practically denuded of flowers to make the floral wreaths and bouquets for his funeral.

Tens of thousands of people filled the streets outside the cathedral where the ceremony was conducted, the accounts said, and when the coffin was about to be placed in a hearse a cry went up: “Dr. Hernández is ours!” In a spontaneous display of popular mourning, the coffin was carried to the cemetery on the shoulders of the capital’s citizens.

Over the years, his legend grew. The sick or the injured prayed to him to be cured, and many believed he was responsible for miracles. He was also embraced by the followers of two popular religions that combine elements of Roman Catholicism with African and indigenous beliefs — María Lionza, which is native to Venezuela, and Santería, which spread here from Cuba.

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