“The beatification of Dr. José Gregorio takes place at a particularly difficult moment for you. Like my brother bishops, I know well the situation you are undergoing, and I am aware that your prolonged suffering and anguish have been aggravated by the terrible COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting us all,” Pope Francis said.
Venezuela, a country of almost 29 million people bordering Colombia, Brazil, and Guyana, is in the midst of a years-long political and economic crisis.
In his video message, the pope said repeatedly that he would like to visit Venezuela, emphasizing that he was praying for “reconciliation and peace” in the country.
Francis urged Venezuelans to “seek the path of national unity” by “putting the common good before any other interest.”
“And I ask the Lord that no external intervention prevents you from following this path of national unity,” he added.
Pope Francis said: “I sincerely believe that this moment of national unity, around the figure of the people’s doctor, constitutes a particular moment for Venezuela and demands that you go further, that you take concrete steps in favor of unity, without letting yourselves be overcome by discouragement.”
“Following the example of Dr. José Gregorio, may you be able to recognize each other as equals, as brothers, as children of the same homeland.”
José Gregorio Hernández was born on October 26, 1864, in the town of Isnotú in the Venezuelan state of Trujillo. He lost his mother at the age of eight.
Hernández studied medicine in Caracas and received government funding to continue his studies in Paris in 1889 for two years.
After returning to Venezuela, he became a professor at the Central University of Caracas, where he started each lesson with the sign of the cross.
Hernández attended daily Mass, brought medicine and care to the poor, and made a profession as a Third Order Franciscan.
He eventually discerned a monastic religious vocation and gave up his professorship to enter a cloistered Carthusian monastery in Farneta, Italy, in 1908, with the name of Brother Marcelo.
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After nine months, he fell ill, and his superior ordered him to return to Venezuela to recover. In Caracas, he received permission to enter the Santa Rosa de Lima Seminary.
He moved to Rome for three years to study theology at the Pius Latin American College, but again became ill and was forced to return to Venezuela in 1914.
Hernández concluded that it was God’s will for him to remain a layman. He decided then to promote sanctification as an exemplary Catholic by being a doctor and giving glory to God by serving the sick.
He devoted himself to academic research and deepened his dedication to serving the poor, particularly during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.
One day, as the doctor went to pick up medicine for an elderly poor woman, he was hit by a car. He died in hospital on June 29, 1919, after receiving the last rites.
Catholics in Venezuela have welcomed Hernández’s beatification as an inspiration for other lay people.