José Gregorio Hernandez, “the doctor of the poor” considered a saint in Venezuela

José Gregorio Hernandez (1864-1919), “the doctor of the poor”, who must be beatified on Friday, has already been worshiped as a saint for nearly 100 years in Venezuela where his mustache, his hat, his impeccable outfit and his serene gaze form now an icon that is placed on the altars of places of worship and houses.

The doctor who treated the poor free of charge, especially during the Spanish flu epidemic that ravaged the country at the beginning of the last century, is now one of the figures in the country’s history.

It even exceeds the hero Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) some Venezuelans assure. For many of them, his beatification on Friday is only a step before his future canonization.

José Gregorio Hernandez was born on October 26, 1864 into a Catholic family in the small Andean village of Isnotu, landlocked in western Venezuela.

The oldest of six siblings – an older sister died at birth – JGH, as he is often referred to today, travels to Caracas for his studies as a teenager. The trip then takes three weeks by mule, boat and train …

A woman takes a photo of portraits of Venezuelan doctor Jose Gregorio Hernandez, installed in the chapel where his beatification will take place, in Caracas on April 28, 2021 (AFP – Yuri CORTEZ)

Graduated in medicine in 1888, he went, thanks to a scholarship, to Paris where he perfected his knowledge alongside professors at the forefront of research at the time. He also goes to Berlin.

Returning to Venezuela in 1891, he notably introduced the first microscope and founded the National Academy of Medicine. He teaches at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) showing itself to be a pioneer on the continent, particularly in the field of bacteriology.

But he distinguished himself above all in the face of the Spanish flu, giving of his person for the poorest. He heals for free and sometimes even gives money to his patients.

The apostolic nuncio to Venezuela Aldo Giordano, April 27, 2021 in Caracas (AFP - Yuri CORTEZ)

The apostolic nuncio to Venezuela Aldo Giordano, April 27, 2021 in Caracas (AFP – Yuri CORTEZ)

“It is modern,” explains the apostolic nuncio Aldo Giordano, who is to preside over the beatification ceremony. The nuncio emphasizes the closeness between his life and “the reality we live in today” with the coronavirus pandemic.

“On the one hand he was a great scientist, a great doctor, a great teacher. But on the other, he lived his life as a vocation in the light of the Gospel. As a believer, he chose the poorest, the last in society. As a doctor, he dedicated his life to the poor, “he explains.

– Miraculous girl –

Hernandez, who considered becoming a priest and never married, died in 1919 at the age of 54, hit by a car on his way to a patient’s home.

Thousands of people attend his funeral. “Behind the coffin, we all felt the desire to be good,” writes Romulo Gallegos (1884-1969), one of the greatest Venezuelan writers and president in 1948.

A mural paying homage to Venezuelan doctor Jose Gregorio Hernandez in a street in Caracas, April 27, 2021 (AFP - Federico PARRA)

A mural paying homage to Venezuelan doctor Jose Gregorio Hernandez in a street in Caracas, April 27, 2021 (AFP – Federico PARRA)

His aura will then go beyond the simple Catholic rite. It is notably part of the “santeria”, the cult of saints close to Haitian voodoo or Brazilian candomblé, but also more broadly to the collective unconscious. We pray to him, we ask him.

Catholics have been asking him for favors for years. In 2017, when 10-year-old Yaxury Solorzano was shot in the head, her mother naturally turned to the doctor of the poor for her daughter’s recovery.

According to the investigation of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, the mother then felt a hand resting on her shoulder and a voice telling her: “Be quiet, everything will be fine”. His seriously injured daughter will recover. She will be present at the beatification ceremony on Friday.

In June 2020, the miracle is recognized and Pope Francis signs the decree of beatification. Thousands of other Venezuelans were already or are convinced to have benefited from the miracles of the late doctor.

Three Venezuelan nuns had been beatified before him, but none has the influence of José Gregorio Hernandez because, as summarized by El Cojo Ilustrado, a contemporary review of the doctor, he had “a science that cannot be learned in any academy. . The science of knowing how to be loved “.

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