Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Scientific Import of Saint Andre

Brother Andre was declared a saint this past weekend and produced fair coverage here that is likely unseen elsewhere.  This item is a pretty good story on him and well worth reading.   Reading the lives of saints is always rewarding and a sharp reminder to us all that some men and women have felt compelled to devote their lives to service and have often been spectacularly successful.

As interesting is the second story.  The Catholic Church has ended up becoming the conservator of data related to what can be described as medical miracles.  This has provided valuable data for medical researchers.  It should never have needed saints to emphasize the importance of such data but that is the way.

More specifically, one thousand deaths by cancer provide us with little new data beyond what was recovered from the first victim.  The first miracle provides possible new information.  An example of that back in the sixties was about a report of a women dying from cancer who had a spontaneous remission.  Further investigation shows that she had entered into a terminal fever.  This finally broke and her cancer then disappeared.  There obviously was a link.   We now know that heat applied to viruses and cancer cells kill both before healthy cells are damaged.

My point is that anomalous information often points to valuable therapeutic protocols.  The most anomalous are  apparent miracles.

Brother André: The Rocket Richard of miracles


Rome— From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010 8:20PM EDT

A young boy from Quebec lay in hospital, near death. A road accident victim, he had suffered massive cranial trauma and was evidently in an irreversible coma. Any doctor will tell you that recovery from serious head injuries is exceedingly rare.
The boy’s family and friends prayed to Brother André, the founder of Montreal’s Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal and a man famous for healings; he had been beatified in 1982, four decades after his death.
Against all odds, the boy emerged from his coma. The recovery was judged scientifically inexplicable by several doctors.
The Vatican confirmed a second miracle attributed to André late last year; two are necessary, one for the beatification, the other for the posthumous canonization, which will be formalized in St. Peter’s Square in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday.
And the boy? He has returned to health after the 1999 accident, when he was 9 years old, and will be among 5,000 Canadians making the pilgrimage to Rome to watch André’s elevation to sainthood. His identity has never been revealed.
“He’ll certainly be among the crowd at St. Peter’s,” said Mario Lachapelle, the Quebec priest who, as a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, was André’s vice-postulator, a middleman who sponsors and pleads the canonizations to the Vatican. “But he and his family are humble people and they value their privacy.”
If the boy – now young man – does reveal his identity, he will become an instant international celebrity, for André’s healings are known throughout the Catholic world, from Canada to the Philippines. In Italy, Father Lachapelle said André is known as the “Padro Pio” of Canada, a reference to the famous southern Italian priest, known for his stigmata and healings, who was canonized in 2002.
André’s canonization on what should be a warm, sunny autumn day in Rome will be one of the biggest spectacles of Pope Benedict’s reign. Canonizations are still relatively rare, even though Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, cranked up the Vatican’s saint-making machine with alacrity, to the point he was accused by one Italian observer of churchly matters of using saints as “Vatican marketing decisions.”
André will be one of six canonizations, and will be the first Canadian male saint born on Canadian soil. Marie-Marguerite d’Youville, founder of Montreal’s Order of Sisters of Charity, was the first Canadian-born saint and was canonized in 1990.
The event starts at 10 a.m. and promises to be a festival of colour and ceremony, with tens of thousands of visitors, many of them politicians, ambassadors and senior Roman Catholic Church officials from the countries that claim the fresh saints. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Jean Charest are not expected to attend, Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon and Gerald Tremblay, the mayor of Montreal, among others, will be in the throng. The Canadian church will send five bishops, four archbishops and two cardinals, Marc Ouellet and Jean-Claude Turcotte, plus an army of nuns and priests..
André is a superstar in his native province. When he died at age 91 of old age – there is no medical record of a fatal disease – on Jan. 6, 1937, a million people filed by his coffin, the equivalent to one in three Quebec residents at the time. “For Montreal, his canonization is a great drawing card,” said Anne Leahy, Canada’s ambassador to the Holy See in Rome. “People in Quebec are proud of Frère André just like they are proud of Maurice Richard.”
André’s body, placed in the Crypt Church, below the present day basilica, was a sight to behold. Piled against the walls were hundreds of crutches that had been owned by cripples allegedly cured by André. He is associated with an extraordinary 125,000 miracles, though he never considered himself a healer. Instead, he urged the unwell to see a doctor or pray.
The Vatican has been exploiting miracles forever. It first cranked up the saint conveyor belt in the centuries after the death of Jesus Christ, when Christians were persecuted by the Romans. Back then, virtually any martyr became a saint. In later centuries, the definition of saint was broadened to include the ultra faithful and pious. The number of saints, of course multiplied. The saint glut troubled the 12th Century pope, Alexander III, who imposed tighter restrictions on canonizations.
The modern-day criteria for sainthood date back to the 17th Century, when it took four posthumous miracles (recently reduced to two) to qualify. The Vatican insists on the use of independent doctors to verify that healings – the vast majority of miracles are medical cures – are scientifically unexplainable. Under Pope John Paul II, the canonization process was simplified by the elimination of the Devil’s Advocate, the Vatican official who would argue against sainthood. Saintly inflation rates exploded to almost 500 canonizations, including Mother Teresa’s.
André’s first Vatican-confirmed miracle was the healing in 1958 of a Quebec man, Giuseppe Carlo Audino, who suffered from cancer. He prayed to André and the cancer disappeared. This miracle was cited in André’s beatification by John Paul II in 1982.
Father Lachappelle, who has spent his career studying André, said some of the stories of miracles were fantastic. “He would say [to a cripple], ‘You’re not sick, so leave you’re crutches here.’ And some of them just walked away,” he said.
André saw himself as a simple man, incapable of miracles “I am nothing,” he would say, “only a tool in the hands of Providence, a lowly instrument at the service of St. Joseph.”
Father Lachappelle said what interests him most about André’s life is not so much the healings but his unconditional acceptances of others and his ability to speak simply about the love of God. and what he calls his “avant-garde” ecumenism. “What is fascinating about Brother André is that he was so much ahead of his time,” he said. “He was a father figure, and did not have an image of God as a dispenser of justice.”
André, he said, was “avant-garde” in the sense that he was unusually liberal for his time. For example, he befriended non-Catholics and non-Christians, a rarity for devout men of the Church in that era. One of his closest friends was George H. Ham, the Protestant newspaperman who published the first biography of André, “The Miracle Man of Montreal,” in 1921.
André was born Alfred Bessette, one of ten children, in a town about 40 kilometres southeast of Montreal in 1845. He had a miserable upbringing. He was only nine when his father was killed by a falling tree. Three years later his mother died of tuberculosis. André was small and sickly, had little schooling and was largely illiterate. He never wrote a full sentence in his life, making the research into his career, his spirituality and his miracles reliant on the observations of friends, fellow brothers, eyewitnesses and biographers.
After his parents died, he bounced from family to family, job to job and worked as a farm hand, tinsmith, blacksmith, baker, shoemaker, coachman and, four years, in textiles mills in the United States. He returned in 1867, the year of Canadian confederation, and presented himself in 1870 to the Congregation of Holy Cross in Montreal, where he was given the name Brother André and a low-exertion job as porter at Notre-Dame College.
He doubled up as a floor washer and barber, and the sacks of coins he saved over the years from his five-cent-a-pop haircuts would later be used to finance the building of a chapel on Montreal’s Mont Royal. The chapel, which still exists, is next to the larger Crypt Church that was completed under André’s watch in 1917. The basilica, which was started in 1924 and not completed until 30 years after André’s death, sits atop the Crypt Church. Dedicated to St. Joseph and inspired by André, the basilica’s 97-metre-high dome is the world’s third largest of its kind.
André would become better known as a healer than a builder. He had an affinity for the poor and the ill and visited them everywhere. He would urge them to pray to St. Joseph or rub a medal of the saint. In time he gained the reputation as someone who could cure sickness – a miracle worker – and the people would go to him in the hundreds, then thousands. Some allegedly were cured, others died, though his friends said anyone who met him felt enriched or transformed in some way.
On Sunday, the Vatican will officially recognize André as the miracle worker he insisted he wasn’t. Quebec will celebrate, along with the young man in St. Peter’s square whose family is convinced André saved their son’s life.
The making of a saint
Rome— From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010 8:20PM EDT

How does the Vatican screen miracles? With great care, as it turns out, using doctors and scientists who don’t know they’ve been hustled into the Vatican’s saint-making – or unmaking – skunk works.
One doctor unwittingly called into the canonization cause was Jacalyn Duffin, 60, a hematologist who is Hannah professor of medical history at Ontario’s Queen’s University. She describes herself as “an atheist who believes in miracles – these were inexplicable events.”

Her canonization adventure began in 1987, after she wrote her dissertation on the invention of the stethoscope. A fellow hematologist in Ottawa asked her to cast her professional eye over 400 bone marrow slides from a leukemia victim. Dr. Duffin knew nothing else about the case – it was a “blind” review – and assumed her report would be used in a medical lawsuit.
After examining the first few slides, she concluded three things: That the samples were from a woman, that she had myeloblastic leukemia, the most aggressive type known, and that she, poor thing, was dead. But as she delved into the whole range of samples, covering 18 months, a highly unusual pattern emerged. “It was treatment, remission, relapse, then remission, remission, remission,” she said.
Dr. Duffin’s report could offer no reason for the remission and she jokingly suggested that it was a miracle. She later found out that the patient had survived and that – no joke – her examination was done on behalf of the Vatican miracles-screening team. The patient was Lise Normand, from Gatineau, Que., (who is alive and well today). When she was ill, Ms. Normand had prayed to Marie-Marguerite d’Youville, the founder of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal in the early 18th Century.
Another miracle had already been attributed to Marie-Marguerite, which the Vatican employed for her beatification, which is the second step in the canonization process in 1959. Ms. Normand’s inexplicable cure was the second. Marie-Marguerite became Canada’s first native-born saint in 1990, when she was canonized in Rome by Pope John Paul II. Ms. Normand and Dr. Duffin attended the ceremony and stood together.
Dr. Duffin called the experience a “turning point” in her life and she decided to research miracles. She buried herself in the Vatican archives, where she read amazing stories of cancerous tumours melting sway, lame children suddenly walking, nearly dead babies coming to life. What started as a simple exercise in blood analysis resulted in a book, published in 2009, called Medical Miracles: Doctors, Saints and Healing in the Modern World. It both added to the canon of medical history and revealed just how closely medicine and religion worked with one another for centuries.
She researched the miracles used to support 1,400 canonizations over four centuries, up to 1999. The vast majority of them, she says, qualified for the genuine thing if you take the most common definition of a miracle: A remarkable event, typically a healing, which science cannot explain. “As these miracles rolled by, I saw that the Vatican was being scientifically thorough,” she said in an interview. “The files were brimming with medical testimony and when new science arrived, it was put to use.”
She did uncover one silly “miracle” that made her laugh.
It was about a 17th Century Italian man, referred to as the “Capitano” in the documents, who took an after-dinner stroll with his friends in Civita Capellana, just north of Rome. He lifted his right arm to rudely blow his nose with his finger, exposing his chest.
At that precise moment, the thunder of an arquebus – a heavy, muzzle-loaded firearm – startled the crowd. The Capitano collapsed, bleeding from a wound just above his heart. A surgeon was summoned. He probed the gory mess and found a small, dented medal. On one side was an image of the lamb of God, on the flipside an image of Pope Pius V (1504-1572). Against all odds, the bullet had hit the medal, preventing it from ripping apart the thorax. The man lived.
As it turned out, it appears the Vatican’s investigators thought the alleged miracle could be better defined as sheer dumb luck. Dr. Duffin’s research suggested that other miracles were found to grease Pope Pius’s journey into sainthood, though she doesn’t know for sure.
She was not involved in studying the miracles attributed to Brother André who is to be canonized on Oct. 17. But saints, miracles and medicine are still close to her heart and academic life. The working title of her next book, as yet unpublished, is: Medical Saints in a Post-Modern World.

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