MIRACLES DO HAPPEN
The most incredible thing about miracles, said G. K. Chesterton, is that they happen. And what happened to the young Brazilian woman, Maria Jose Oliveira Paixao, is one of the few miracles to pass medical science's examinations and which the Church officially approved. It happened on October 25, 1970 in a remote Brazilian town. Maria Jose was just ten years old and not expected to survive a parasitic infection causing gangrene of the abdomen. But her life was saved by the intercession of Daniele Comboni, the missionary who dedicated his life to announcing the Gospel in Africa. Her cure was so inexplicable and sudden that even her surgeon later became a Christian. But few knew of the event and all traces of Maria Jose were lost as the years passed. However, her miraculous cure was decisive in the cause for the beatification of the "apostle of Africa" who will be elevated to the honor of the altar on March 17.
Today, Maria Jose is 36 and the mother of two children. <30DAYS> went to her home in Brazil to meet her.
It was a sunny afternoon in Sao Paulo's West Plaza, one of the largest shopping malls in this vast Brazilian city. She works in one of the Plaza's stores. She has just come off duty and is walking timidly towards us. She seems surprised to see us. She has a simplicity about her, too. She smiles sweetly and turns a full, clear gaze on us. "This is the first time anyone has come here to find out about what happened to me", she said. Together with Francesco Vialetto, the provincial superior of the Combonian missionaries in Brazil, we offer to accompany her home. She lives a distance away, in the dormitory town of Francisco Morato on the extreme outskirts of the Sao Paulo city sprawl. She catches the train before dawn every morning for the five-hour journey to work. Her husband died three years ago and she finds it a struggle as the breadwinner for her two children. Maria Jose, like so many poor people in Brazil, has had a hard life. The road to her house takes us through miles of <favelas>, where thousands live in overcrowded conditions and where life itself is worth nothing. "Churches of all types grow up here like mushrooms, on every corner", said the priest who is accompanying us. "The miracle syndrome is widespread. There's a sort of spiritualism carried to extremes. It's escapism". Maria Jose smiles at this for her story is different. It really did happen and the background to it was simply everyday life.
Maria Jose's home is on the slope of a hill. As soon as they hear us coming, her children run to meet her. Michelle is 12 and Bruno five. They run happily ahead of us. "I am graced by them ...", she said as she watched them in that placid, shy way of hers. "But when I was cured I was told that I would never be able to have children ... yet there they are ... I owe everything to dear dom Daniel ...". She looks out a photo album of her fondest memories and removes a picture of the bearded missionary complete with African turban on his head. She holds it out to us and it is clear that she considers the missionary one of the family: "<Eis o meu querido barbao>That's my dear one with the beard".
What does Maria Jose remember of what happened? "I was living in Conceicao da Barra in the State of Espirito Santo, where I was born on May 25, 1960. In 1970I was tenI began to have great pain in my stomach. I had fever and was violently sick. Seeing me get worse and worse, my parents went for the parish priest to ask him to take me to the San Mateus diocesan hospital where Combonian missionary sisters worked. I went into hospital on October 22. The doctor who examined me told my parents that I was desperately ill and that I would have to be operated on immediately. He asked my father to authorize it and I remember that he started to cry ... I had never seen my father cry. I was accompanied into the operating room by Sister Luisa who had been there when I arrived at the hospital". The doctor diagnosed acute peritonitis with an intestinal occlusion. But during the operation they saw that it was worse than that. Ascarids, parasitic worms, had perforated my intestine causing gangrene of the membranes. I was practically dead already". The Combonian provincial superior, who is sitting beside her, shows us the medical report, stating: "The prognosis was grave <quoad vitam> before operating on the patient, during the operation and immediately afterwards". And this is the report of the surgeon, Carlo Cassiano dos Santos: "I observed that this was an intestinal volvulus with a vast necrosis of the loops and perforations with faeces and <ascaridii lumbricoides> in the abdominal cavity; appendix perforated and infected; extensive formation of an abscess where the intestinal loops were stuck together. I made a partial extraction of the necrotized part of the intestinal loop and a summary wash was carried out of the abdominal cavity. A considerable quantity of <ascaridii>, faeces and pus remained. There was no further possibility of surgical intervention. The patient was sown up and death was expected in the immediate post-operative phase". This blunt medical report is followed by the testimony of Sister Luisa Poli who was present during the operation: "At that point, the doctor asked me to stitch up the abdomen because he believed that nothing else could be done. I went back to my community in the evening and, after prayers I asked the superior and the other sistersthough I don't know what made me to do itthat there be a Novena to Monsignor Comboni for little Maria Jose. Everyone agreed and we initiated the Novena. I prayed in faith, almost challenging Comboni to do something for that poor child. The superior gave me a little image with a relic to give to the child and I ran back to the hospital. I went to Maria Jose and showed her the image saying to her: 'Do you see this man with the beard?'. It would have taken too long to say that his name was Comboni and so on. 'Pray to him because he is close to Jesus and can help you'."
"That's exactly what Sister Luisa said", Maria Jose added. "When the effect of the anesthetic wore off, she asked me if I had faith. I said I did and then she told me to say an Ave Maria. She took out a little image and showed it to me. I took it in my hand and looked at it. I didn't know what it was and she then said: 'Do you see this man with the beard? Pray to him. He'll help you, you'll see'. I put the image under my pillow, then I fainted. I don't know for how long ... but when I came round I opened my eyes and saw a priest there come to give me the Last Rites. But I no longer felt ill. On the contrary, I was hungry and I asked Sister Luisa who was standing there to bring me some bread and cheese. Sister Luisa looked at the priest and he told her gently: 'Do what she asks ... give her something to eat. It's her last wish'. But my condition improved so quickly that my normal physiological functions returned. On the morning of October 25, I wanted to get out of bed. So I got up without saying anything to anyone, took the image of my bearded man and went to the chapel where Mass was about to start. When Father Aldo, the priest who had come to give me the Last Rites, and another priest saw me walk in they couldn't believe their eyes. I remember asking if I could have first communion. Sister Luisa ran for the doctor who had operated on me to tell him that I had got up out of bed, that I was well. The doctor came, looked at me and said: 'Impossible. With all that we had to leave inside her ... No, it's impossible'. I stayed in hospital for two months and three weeks. The doctors wanted to keep me in for observation even though I was well. Two months later, the surgeon decided to fix up my wound and to operate again. He was amazed to discover that everything was normal and that even the part he had removed had re-formed. There was no trace of scarring". So was she able to go home? "After all that had happened, the surgeon wanted to take me home to his family so that I would be able to study. My parents were very poor and my father agreed. I lived in the surgeon's house for eight years. Then I came to Sao Paulo where I got married. For a long time I saw none of the people who had been with me at the time. Then one day I went back to the San Mateus hospital to see don Aldo, who had become a bishop in the meantime. That was when I discovered that he had been looking for me for Comboni's beatification cause. That's the whole story. Dom Daniel is always by my side, even in my present difficulties ... ".
"An extremely rapid, complete and lasting cure which is scientifically inexplicable", the Theological Commission wrote after a meeting at the Congregation for the Cause of Saints on December 22, 1994. It concludes: "That which human science was totally unable to obtain, the Lord has granted, by the intercession of the venerable Daniele Comboni".
This article was taken from the No. 2, 1996 issue of "30Days". To subscribe contact "30Days" at: Subscriptions Office, 28 Trinity St., Newton, NJ 07860 or call 1-800-321-2255, Fax 201-579-5541. Subscription rate is $35.00 per year.