More than 48,000 people have signed an online petition asking the Brazilian bishops to open a beatification cause for the most recent bishop to die from the coronavirus.

Bishop Henrique Soares da Costa of Palmares, Brazil, died of COVID-19 on July 18, at the age of 57. Da Costa had been hospitalized for more than two weeks of treatment in the intensive care unit of the St. Joseph Memorial Hospital in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

The petition, which was posted on CitizenGo July 19, asks the bishops' conference of Brazil to appeal to the Vatican to waive the five-year waiting period to open a beatification cause for da Costa. 

Ordinarily, the Vatican mandates waiting at least five years after a person's death before a cause for his or her beatification is opened, however, the pope can choose to waive the requirement.

"The Holy Catholic Church in Brazil has lost one of the greatest names in its recent episcopate, Bishop Henrique Soares da Costa," the petition reads.

The petition claims that the bishop died with "the odor of sanctity" and "Catholics from all over Brazil and even abroad, on hearing of his death, exclaim as in the loss of St. John Paul II: Santo Subito!"

"We, the Church of Brazil, beg our pastors to look at the supplication of the faithful and to ask the Vicar of Christ to open the beatification process," the appeal states. 

During his ministry as a bishop, da Costa built a large internet apostolate, including a popular blog and Facebook page.

The bishop had 97,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, where he livestreamed Mass during the pandemic and posted interviews and talks on faith-based topics which garnered thousands of views.

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The bishop's last livestreamed Mass before his death was June 29, and has had 19,000 views on YouTube.

In March, da Costa launched a paid platform with courses on topics such as the Gospels, Theology of the Body, Mary in Sacred Scripture, and the Eucharist. 

The website also includes weekly text and audio commentaries on the Sunday liturgy.

Da Costa was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Maceió on August 15, 1992. In 2009 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Aracaju and in 2014 he was named bishop of Palmares in the state of Pernambuco.

"In these six years leading the people of God of the Diocese of Palmares, Bishop Henrique was always with his clergy, being, as he himself claimed, 'father and pastor,'" the diocese wrote.

In a homily July 19, a friend of da Costa, Fr. Paulo Ricardo, stressed that the death of the bishop had touched many. 

"I feel orphaned, a father has been taken from me," the priest said.

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"By saying this I think I express the sentiment of many in Brazil, because Bishop Henrique had a productive and fruitful apostolate on the internet. He also had that vocation as a writer," Ricardo added.

The livestream of da Costa's funeral on July 19 has been viewed more than 125,000 times.