Chico of the Spirits Chico Xavier became a household name in Brazil during the 30s. By then, the medium was already able to "psychograph" more than 700 "prescriptions" in only one session. Alessandra Dalevi Chico Xavier's wish was to die in a day the country was in feast. And death came that same Sunday, June 30, in which Brazil won the soccer World Cup in Japan, dragging to the Brazilian streets celebratory crowds the nation hadn't seen in years. For the most famous spiritual medium psychograph in Brazil and maybe the world it was peace at last, after a 92-year-long existence filled with personal suffering and inspiration for a whole country. Lucid until the end, he had spent a routine day, visiting Casa da Prece (Prayer House)-the place where he used to hold his psychographics' sessions-and staying at home, in Uberaba, state of Minas Gerais. He died-or as spiritists like him like to say-disembodied in his bed, soon after dinner, from cardiac arrest. While the Brazilian seleção was being received in Brasília, the capital, on July 2nd, by hundreds of thousands of Brasilienses, there was a line of 100,000 people trying to say their final goodbye to the Mineiro (from Minas Gerais state) channeler. Francisco de Paula Cândido Xavier was called the Pope of Spiritism and many considered him the world's most important spiritist leader. He psychographed (wrote while in trance) 418 books, many of them translated in foreign languages. Xavier was born on April 2nd, 1910, in the small town of Pedro Leopoldo, in the state of Minas Gerais. The father, João Cândido Xavier, took the boy to the local priest, when he at the age of four started complaining that there was a spirit bothering him. Father Sebastião concluded that the child was possessed by the devil and sent him back home with a penance: 1000 Hail Marys and going to processions with a 30-lb stone on the head. It didn't help. The spirit wouldn't let him alone. He was only five when his mother, Maria João de Deus, died. Left with nine kids to raise, his father, João Cândido Xavier, appealed to relatives to help. Xavier was sent to his godmother's house, Dona Ritinha, who proved to be a very mean and abusive guardian. She used to beat him up three times a day in predetermined hours so he would get rid of the "influences of the evil". Little Xavier used to bleed after the beatings and many times he would hide in the backyard. It was in one such occasion, he said later, that the spirit of his mother appeared and told him: "Be patient, son. You need to grow up stronger for the work. And he who doesn't suffer will not learn how to fight." Instead of becoming a rebel, Chico Xavier grew up as a very resigned man, always with a smile in his serene face. Mission The future spiritist leader studied only until 4th grade. He began his work as channeler on July 8th, 1927, at age 17. Legend has it that in 1928, Carmen Pena Perácio, one of the members of the reduced group of spiritists of Centro Espírita Luiz Gonzaga, which was founded by Xavier's father, had a vision: in it young Chico Xavier was hit by a shower of books. He saw that as his mission in life: to be a prolific writer. The channeler says that he had his first encounter with the spirit Emmanuel in 1931. Chico Xavier would sign several books under Emmanuel's name throughout his life. His first book, Parnaso de Além-Túmulo (Beyond-the-Grave Parnassus) was published in 1932. The 400- page book included 259 poems "dictated" by great Brazilian dead poets like Castro Alves, Olavo Bilac, Arthur de Azevedo, Alphonsus de Guimaraens, and Augusto dos Anjos. Some intellectuals assured that the style of each poet had been preserved. And the widow of Humberto de Campos, one of the poets in the collection, went to the extreme of suing Xavier to get her part of the dead husband's royalty. A judge denied it, explaining, "The man is dead, and dead people have no rights." Probably disgusted with the whole episode, Campos never again used the medium to continue his poetic work. Among the author's books there were novels: spiritual, philosophical, and scientific essays, as well as self-help works, which have sold a total of 25 million copies. His books have been translated into several languages including English, French, Japanese and Greek. André Luiz, another spirit, was also a constant partner in several books by the spiritist leader. André Luiz is believed by spiritists to be the pseudonym of famed physician Carlos Chagas, who in 1909 discovered the American trypanosomiasis, also known as Chagas disease. Xavier became a household name in Brazil during the 30s. By then, the medium was already able to "psychograph" more than 700 "prescriptions" in only one session. According to Xavier himself, most of these prescriptions were dictated by Adolpho Bezerra de Menezes, a homeopathic physician and philanthropist, who was born in Ceará, lived in Rio, and died in 1900. When Chico Xavier moved to Uberaba, still in the state of Minas Gerais-a town well larger than his native Pedro Leopoldo-in 1959, he already was well known not only in Brazil but also in several foreign countries. There he would establish a thriving spiritist community dedicated to help the poor and the sick. Casa da Prece (Prayer House) and Casa da Paz (Peace House) continue even now to distribute every week hundreds of baskets containing food to the poor of the region. Trust This seems like a tall tale, but weekly newsmagazine Isto É tells that Chico Xavier in 1979 saved the life of José Divino Nunes, accused of murdering his best friend Maurício Henriques. The fact occurred in Goiânia de Campinas, a small town in the state of Goiás. The judge in the case accepted the deposition of the dead victim, who through the medium, not only cleared the friend but also revealed the identity of the real murder, who was able to disappear before being put behind bars. The image most have of Chico Xavier is that of a skinny man, always smiling behind tinted glasses and covered by a checkered cap, which he wore to hide his baldness. He also used to wear a wig, one of the few vanities he allowed himself to have. In the last 43 years the medium lived only from the pension he got after retiring in 1958 as a clerical worker for the Minas Gerais Department of Agriculture. All the money brought by his books was used to fund charities and spiritist works. Some of his simple pleasures: gelatin, meatball, tea, and classical music, in special Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. His was a spartanly furnished, blue and white house, with two bedrooms, at Rua Pedro I, in the Parque das Américas neighborhood, in Uberaba. At the end of his life, Xavier had hearing problems, with only 30 percent of his hearing capacity left. He was also blind from an eye and couldn't see very well from the other. Besides, he had a hard time walking around. Despite his feeble health, however, the channeler kept his daily routine until the end. He used to wake up at 8 AM, have breakfast and scan the day's newspapers. After lunch and a siesta, he was ready at 3 PM for the daily visit of his barber Belmiro Chagas Neto, Netinho, who besides shaving him, for many years took also care of the channeler's wigs. Saturday was the only day he went out to meet the group Espírita da Prece. There were always lines of people from all over the country in front of the building in the hope to at least get a glimpse of someone they worshipped like a saint. A Farce? Trying to demystify the spiritual medium, Realidade-the defunct magazine that many consider Brazil's best publication ever-, in the '70s, wrote that Xavier had no special powers, but was simply the constant victim of epileptic seizures. Elias Barbosa, his physician at the time, denied, however, that the spiritist leader was ever an epileptic. Chico Xavier became a cult figure in Brazil, a kind of domestic Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He was one of the most popular people in the country and in 1981 more than 10 million Brazilians signed a petition asking the Nobel committee to consider his name for the Nobel Peace Prize. That same year, House Representative José Freitas Nobre, himself a spiritist, delivered to the Nobel committee in Oslo a package of information on Xavier weighing more than 200 pounds. The papers showed that by then close to 2000 assistance programs were being funded or helped by his work and the sale of his, up until then, 183 books. He was nominated for the Nobel in 1981 and again the following year. Brazil has a number of spiritual mediums that-differently from Xavier-became famous for their spectacular "spiritual" operations, always without anesthetics sometimes using only a kitchen knife. Zé Arigó (José Pedro de Freitas), who died in 1971 in a car accident, and Rubens de Faria Júnior, for example, claimed to be possessed when in trance by a Dr. Fritz. Dr. Adolph Fritz is presented as a German doctor who died during World War I. Faria Júnior has been charged and is being prosecuted now in Brazil for charlatanism and illegal exercise of medicine. His prestige seems to be intact, however, with foreign audiences, including in the US, who like to invite him for conferences. The Basis The Spiritism was the creation of French Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail (1804-1869), better known as Allan Kardec. He authored several books on language and arithmetic, and was a professor at Sorbonne University and other renowned French schools. In 1855 he started attending mediums sessions. Soon after he revealed that he had a personal communication from a spirit who told him that they had been friends in another life, among the Druids, a time in which Rivail was called Allan Kardec. That's the way he would sign his books from then on. His famed work The Book of Spirits, the first systematization of Spiritism, was published in April 1857. In France, however, according to an article published by weekly newsmagazine Veja in July 2000, the only Kardec association has a little more than 150 members. Jacques Peccatte, from the Allan Kardec Circle of Nancy, is quoted as saying, "Here, in France, as all over Europe, Spiritism is unknown. It's not considered something serious. Only in Brazil the Kardecist doctrine is really developed." In a recent interview, Durval Ciamponi, president of São Paulo's Spiritist Federation, suggested that there are more Spiritists in Brazil than the statistics reveal. "If we include all of those who go to centros (Spiritist temples) the number of Brazilian spiritists reach 20 million," he says, and with a touch of irony: "Many of them declare themselves Catholics or Protestants to the Census, but someone who believes in communication with the dead cannot be considered a Catholic." According to the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística-Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) Census, there are 2.34 million declared Spiritists in Brazil. While an impressive number, this represents less than 1.5 percent of Brazil's population (175 million). Some experts believe that at least 10 percent of the population practices Spiritism even though many of them are Catholic or belong to a protestant denomination. More than that, a survey made in 1996 by Vox Populi showed that 59 percent of Brazilians believe into two basic postulates of Spiritism that are not accepted by Catholicism or Protestantism: communication with the dead and reincarnation.