The Power of Spirituality During Times of Uncertainty

How a doctor from the 1800s is helping people cope with COVID-19

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From Flickr.com under CC

A little statue of the venerable doctor.

Cristina D. (11)

With the spread of COVID-19, many things have changed about our lives. Many of us remain in isolation, and the future remains shrouded by concerns about the pandemic. These are troubling times, and it’s important to learn to live with uncertainty. By now, many of us have settled into routines that help us cope with quarantine, but it can be hard to remain optimistic. In several Latin American countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela, people have placed their faith in José Gregorio Hernández, a doctor whose reputation as a miracle worker remains intact more than a century after his death.

Dr. José Gregorio Hernández was born around a century and a half ago, in the tiny Venezuelan village of Isnotu. He studied medicine in Caracas, and then in Europe, traveling to Italy to study, in hopes of becoming a priest. A devout Catholic, he pursued priesthood twice, but had to return to Venezuela for health reasons. There, he became known for treating poor patients free of charge, and even going as far as buying them medicine with his own money. He died after getting hit by a car in 1919, but that’s only the beginning of his story. 

A painting of the venerable Dr.Jose Gregorio Hernandez. (From FIAMC.com under Public Domain)

Many claim that he continues to heal from beyond the grave, and that in exchange for faithful prayers and offerings, he helps to heal wounds and cure illness. This belief is so strong that throughout Colombia and Venezuela, there are clinics that claim to heal patients by channeling his presence through mediums. One such clinic is called el Consultorio José Gregorio Hernández in Bogota, which offers spiritual healing, natural remedies, and even help with addiction. According to Las2Orillas’s Iván Gallo, the method of spiritual healing depends on the medium. However, for more serious medical issues, patients usually need to set out balls of cotton and rubbing alcohol before saying a prayer to him.

Although he is not currently recognized as a saint, José Gregorio Hernández’s believers continue to worship him as one. He was declared venerable earlier this year, after the Vatican accepted the miracle of 13-year-old Yaxury Solórzano’s recovery, after being shot behind her right ear in 2017. After being taken to the hospital, her mother was told that if the surgery was successful, the remaining brain damage from the bullet wound would leave her daughter severely disabled. The doctors predicted that she would suffer from major motor issues, amnesia, vision loss, and speech impairment. Her mother then prayed to José Gregorio and asked him to intervene. She remembers hearing a voice say, “don’t worry, your daughter will be fine.” Defying all odds, Yaxury came out unscathed 20 days after the surgery. The Vatican’s approval of this miracle back in January only made his popularity grow, only months before the pandemic hit.

José Gregorio Hernández lived through the first year of the Spanish Flu, so his experience coupled with his reputation makes his believers confident that he will protect them against the virus. Spanish news site EFE reports that quarantine shut down churches and canceled all services, but people continue to have faith — some have even broken the mandatory quarantine in order to visit the church which houses his remains. 

The case of Venezuela is a tough one. The country’s healthcare system has been broken down for years now, and this pandemic is putting hospitals under even more strain. Still, José Gregorio’s Venezuelan followers feel safe nonetheless. One devotee said, “He’ll work a miracle for us overnight. I’m sure of it.” He remains a beacon of hope and continues to stand with the underprivileged, just as he did in life.