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from issue no. 04/05 - 2011

Death escaped by a miracle

An extension ad personam

by Gianni Valente

Dom João Braz de Aviz [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

Dom João Braz de Aviz [© Associated Press/LaPresse]


No one can take away from Monsignor Braz de Aviz at least one record. The current Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Religious is the only bishop who has lived for almost thirty years with 130 lead pellets scattered through his body.
At the time João was a young 36 year-old priest, and that day he was going from his parish to that of a nearby village to help the parish priest who was celebrating his twenty-fifth anniversary as priest. Halfway, he saw a car stopped on a bridge. He approaches to see if help was needed. And he realized that these were not campesinos with a broken-down car. In the old VW, there were two fellows who pointed their weapons at him, took his car keys and forced him to follow them across the stream, without saying a word. After half an hour, round the curve came the armored bank truck. It was Friday afternoon, they were waiting for the truck with the week’s takings, and then João realized he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Then the situation worsened. The thieves immediately shot out the tires of the armored vehicle. But the men in the truck were also armed and returned fire. Monsignor Braz de Aviz recalls it today: “At some point, given the stalemate, the two young fellows stuck their guns in my face again: you go talk to the guards, or we kill you. What could I do? I took a few steps and the guards fired on me from the truck”. João felt his whole body burning from the pellets from the sawed-off shotgun. One of his eyes was pierced, he felt the blood streaming down his face. He was stretched on the ground. He couldn’t get up. A helpless immobility that saved his life: “Later it was confirmed that if I’d moved they would have finished me”. Meanwhile the robbers fled. João heard himself beginning to pant, and felt the blood pumping from his lungs into his mouth. “I said within myself: Jesus, why do I have to die at thirty-six, I had so much to do. The answer welled up inside: ‘I died at 33. You’ve already had three years more than me...’” . João realized then that his generosity, a zeal to do good things could fall into the void, when not a surrender into the arms of Jesus. “Then I felt at peace. I said my last prayer, I made my offerings, I asked forgiveness, but then I also added: ‘Lord, give me ten years more. I don’t know why I asked precisely for ten years’.”
In fact, Dom João made it that time. The pellets remained in his lungs and intestines without causing infection. Even the eye was saved and the doctors wondered how it could be.
Monsignor Braz de Aviz recalls he went into a period of depression after the experience. “I couldn’t even leave the house. I went out only a year later, slowly slowly, starting by doing little things, taking short walks, as far as I could go. That kind of paralysis of the will was also an important experience, getting me to accept my limit and my frailty”. When the ten-year “extension” asked for was running out, the appointment as bishop came. “It’s as if the Lord wanted to tell me: so far you asked Me for life, from now on what comes I ask you to give it to Me...”. Dom João laughs as he speaks. Nevertheless the jolt of the memory moistens his eyes.

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