70,000 witness Sister Dulce, Brazil’s Mother Teresa, beatified

SALVADOR, Brazil (CNS) — Despite intermittent rain, 70,000 people gathered in a park for the the beatification of the nun sometimes called Brazil’s Mother Teresa.

Born as Maria Rita de Souza Brito Lopes Pontes in 1914, she was known to Brazilian Catholics as simply Sister Dulce, the mother of the poor.

Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo of Salvador celebrated the beatification Mass with more than 500 archbishops, bishops and priests in attendance.

Claudia Cristiane Santos Araujo, the woman whose miracle cure was attributed to Sister Dulce’s intercession, also attended. Araujo prayed to Sister Dulce while suffering from a massive hemorrhage minutes after giving birth.

At an early age, Pontes would open her family’s modest house in Salvador to those in need of food and shelter. In 1933, she entered the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God and received the name of Sister Dulce, in honor of her mother.

In 1936, Sister Dulce founded the first Catholic workers’ organization in the state of Bahia and started a health clinic for poor workers. She opened a school for workers and their children in 1939.

That same year, Sister Dulce, with nowhere to turn, invaded five abandoned houses on Rat’s Island in Salvador Bay to house the sick and homeless. After getting evicted, she searched for a haven for the poor until 1949, when she settled in an old chicken coop structure beside the convent. That old chicken coop, said her followers, became the largest hospital in the area.

For her work with the poor and sick, in 1988 Sister Dulce was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by then-President Jose Sarney. The nomination received the support of Queen Silvia of Sweden.

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