The Catholic world is abuzz this week about a phenomenon that occurred during the funeral of Eugênio, Cardinal de Araújo Sales, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil who died earlier this month at the age of 91.
According to the Associated Press (AP), during the Cardinal’s July 10 funeral, a Red Cross volunteer released a white dove just as his coffin arrived at the doors of Rio de Janeiro’s Cathedral. However, instead of flying away, the dove flew directly at the coffin and refused to leave it during the service. It occasionally flew to other parts of the Cathedral during the Requiem Mass, but always returned to the Cardinal’s body – perching either near the coffin or immediately above the Cardinal’s face.
“Brazilian television was at hand to film this event, and news broadcasts in the country made much of the fact that the white dove is traditionally both a symbol of peace and of the Holy Spirit,” the AP reports. “How appropriate, then, that this creature of God seemed to honor Cardinal Sales yesterday, on what would have been the feast of St Benedict – whose motto is ‘Pax’. As a bishop and cardinal, Eugênio Sales would also have co-operated with the Holy Spirit in a special way when he attended all sessions of the Second Vatican Council and participated in the election of two popes, making the dove’s attendance at his funeral even more poignant.”
Cardinal Sales was the last person to have been elevated to the College of Cardinals before Pope Paul IV’s promulgation of the new Mass, receiving this honor in 1969. A priest for 68 years, he served the Church as cardinal for 43 years and as bishop for 57 years. He accomplished much for the Church during his tenure as Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, including the institution of a festival of prayer to counter Rio’s infamous Carnival. He also did much to reign in dissent, and provided material and spiritual support for more than 5,000 persecuted Brazilians during that country’s military dictatorship which took place from 1964 to 1985.
Sergio Cabral, the state governor of Rio de Janiero, decreed three days of mourning following the Cardinal’s death.
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