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    Monday, August 17, 2009


    An Annapolis Maryland patient with terminal cancer with malignant tumors in her lungs, liver, stomach and chest was reported on June 28, 2009 as cured as a result she says of praying to Francis X. Seelos, the 19th-century Maryland priest . Her doctor did not expect it, nor could he explain it.In a few weeks, a committee appointed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore will begin exploring that question and ultimately on a campaign to have Francis X. Seelos, the 19th-century Maryland priest to whom the patient had turned in prayer for help, canonized as a saint. For the fifth time in its 200-year history, the Baltimore archdiocese has launched a test of faith and science to help the Vatican determine whether one of its own was not only exemplary in virtue during life but now has the power in death to intercede with God. “Did what happened come about by the intercession of Blessed Seelos? That’s what we have to discover,” said the judicial vicar who heads the committee to determine what took place and whether it can be attributed to natural causes. The method used today reflects a process developed since the 13th century, reformed in the 1600s, enshrined in canon law in the early 20th century and reformed again under Pope John Paul II in 1983.

    Seelos, the Redemptorist priest in several ways remains present at the church where he served two brief stints in the mid-1800s. The German native beams from stained glass in the nave, watches from a photograph on a wall near the church office, sits in a statue on a bench in the garden. A chip of his breastbone the shape and size of a pinkie fingernail is preserved in a reliquary kept in the rectory. In a brass necklace reliquary about the size of a silver dollar, the patient wears a fragment of his bone no longer than the “L” in relic.She has carried Seelos with her this way since early 2003, when she was diagnosed with and first underwent surgery for cancer.

    Seelos’ following had been building for decades. In New Orleans especially, where he died at the age of 48 in 1867 of yellow fever while tending to victims of the disease, his reputation was enhanced in the early 1970s. That’s when a local woman who had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer was found free of the disease after prayers calling on Seelos. An investigation similar to the one in this case affirmed this as a miracle, and Seelos was beatified in a ceremony in Rome in 2000.

    The priest known as the “cheerful ascetic” would thereafter be officially known as “Blessed Seelos,” standing one difficult step away from sainthood.The difference would be one more miracle, one more case confirmed by a process that has been developing for centuries, as saint-making transformed from a spontaneous phenomenon to a formal procedure giving ultimate canonization authority to the pope.

    While elements of the process have been simplified and made more speedy, that is only in relative terms; declaring saints remains a painstaking affair. The rare candidate on the fast track might move from start to sainthood in just under 30 years, Seitz said. The longer causes go on and on. Hundreds stall at the midpoint of beatification, either for lack of a verifiable miracle or the support necessary to bring such information to the Vatican’s attention.

    Specialists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston who were consulted all have a few stories like this. Is this woman really any different from these, what I would call ’statistically improbable’ cases? The outcome is very unusual, but it’s not the only one.” Other patients with such cures that defy statistics come from a wide variety of religions and non-religions.

    There are many such other reports similar to this one.

    P. Del Poggio et al. describe the case of a 77-year-old woman with chronic hepatitis C and well compensated cirrhosis in whom a single encapsulated 5.5 cm hepatocellular carcinoma was found in the right liver lobe. The patient was symptomatic with left upper quadrant pain and had elevated alfa-fetoprotein levels (3133 ng/ml). While she was waiting for liver resection and 2 months after the initial diagnosis the pain improved and alfa-fetoprotein levels normalized. A computerized tomography scan showed reduction in size of the lesion to 2.5 cm, with no central arterial enhancement, but with the demonstration of a peripheral rim enhancing in all dynamic phases. Follow up computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging examinations showed further reduction in size of the lesion to 1.3 cm with persistence of the enhancing rim 20 months after the initial diagnosis. The spontaneous and durable regression of the HCC and the persistent peripheral enhancing rim could be explained by a strong and persistent activation of the immune system directed against the neoplastic cells.

    Yes. Miracles do occur in medicine. Each of us as practicing clinicians has seen at least one. Who can really explain this phenomenon. Religious orders claim spiritual causes. Others try to find explanations in science. That’s why I believe a doctor should never take away hope from a patient who needs it. We do not know enough to do so.

    Please remember, as with all our articles we provide information, not medical advice.
    For any treatment of your own medical condition you must visit your local doctor, with or without our article[s]. These articles are not to be taken as individual medical advice.

    *Tune in tomorrow for The Mysterious Case Of the Missing Fingerprints

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