Nhá Chica of Baependi

By Paulo Coelho

What is a miracle?

There is a definition for every kind of miracle: it may be something that goes against the laws of nature, an act of divine intervention at a moment of great crisis, something which is considered scientifically impossible, etc.

I have my own definition: a miracle is something that fills the soul with peace. Sometimes it manifests itself in the form of a cure or a wish granted, it doesn’t matter – the end result is that, when the miracle occurs, we feel a profound reverence for the grace God has granted us.

Twenty or more years ago, when I was going through my hippie phase, my sister asked me to be godfather to her first daughter. I was thrilled and I was especially pleased that she did not ask me to cut my hair (at the time, it was down to my waist), nor demand an expensive christening present (I didn’t have any money to buy one).

The baby was born, a year went by and no christening. I thought perhaps my sister had changed her mind and so I went to ask her what had happened. She replied: ‘You’re still the godfather, it’s just that I made a promise to Nhá Chica and I want to have her christened in Baependi because she granted my wish.’

I didn’t know where Baependi was and I had never even heard of Nhá Chica. My hippie phase passed, and I became an executive working for a record company, my sister had another child and still no christening. Finally, in 1978, a decision was taken, and the two families, hers and that of her ex-husband, went to Baependi. There I learned that Nhá Chica, who did not have enough money to keep herself, had spent the last thirty years building a church and helping the poor.

I was going through a very turbulent period in my life and I no longer believed in God, or, rather, I no longer believed that the spiritual world was very important. What mattered were the things of this world and what you could achieve here. I had abandoned the mad dreams of my youth – amongst them was that of becoming a writer – and I had no intention of going back to that dream-world. I was in that church merely to fulfil a social duty. While I was waiting for the christening to begin, I started wandering around outside and I ended up going into Nhá Chica’s humble little house next to the church. Two rooms, a small altar with a few images of saints, and a vase containing two red roses and one white rose.

On an impulse, quite out of keeping with my thinking at the time, I made a promise: If, one day, I manage to become the writer I would like to be, I will come back here when I’m fifty years old and I will bring two red roses and one white rose.

I bought a picture of Nhá Chica, purely as a souvenir of the christening. On the way back to Rio, there was an accident: the bus in front of me suddenly braked and, with split-second timing, I somehow managed to swerve out of the way, as did my brother-in-law, but the car behind us ran straight into the bus, there was an explosion and several people were killed. We parked at the roadside, not knowing what to do. I reached into my pocket for a cigarette and there was the picture of Nhá Chica with her silent message of protection.

My journey back to dreams, to the spiritual search and to literature began right there, and one day, I found myself back fighting the Good Fight, the fight you undertake with your heart full of peace, because it is the result of a miracle. I never forgot the three roses. Finally, my fiftieth birthday – which had seemed so far off at the time – arrived.

And it almost passed by. During the World Cup, though, I went to Baependi to fulfil my promise. Someone saw me arriving in Caxambú (where I spent the night), and a journalist came to interview me. When I told him what I was doing, he said:

‘Would you like to talk about Nhá Chica. Her body was exhumed this week and the beatification process is with the Vatican now. People should be giving their accounts of their experiences with her.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘It’s too personal. I’ll only talk about it if I receive a sign.’

And I thought to myself: ‘What sign would that be? The only possible sign would be someone speaking on her behalf!’

The next day, I bought the flowers, got into my car and went to Baependi. I stopped some way from the church, remembering the record company executive who had gone there all those years before and the many things that had brought me back again. As I was going into the house, a young woman came out of a dress shop and said:

‘I noticed that your book Maktub is dedicated to Nhá Chica. I bet she was really pleased.’

And she said nothing else. But that was the sign I was waiting for. And this is the public statement I needed to make.

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