by ROWENA OREJANA
Every day is a miracle for Ilse Hanekomhull. Diagnosed with sarcoma, a type of cancer that started in her leg and spread to her lungs, she was given a year to live.
“That was in September. It’s now October. I don’t feel sick. I get pain and
tiredness, but that’s the old age,” she said laughing.
Mrs Hanekomhull’s miracle came through a circuitous route all the way from a tiny town in Brazil called Guaratingueta.
Jane Videtta, a co-worker at Mt Richmond Special School, went to Rio de Janeiro
for World Youth Day 2013 with a group of young people from Auckland.
While there, they visited the Church of Frei Galvao, the first Brazilian-born
saint, who was canonised in 2007.
Frei Anthony of St Ann Galvao, OFM, born in 1739, was known as a mystic
with healing powers. He was known for his “paper pills” — little slips of rice
paper rolled like pills where he wrote a Latin phrase from the Little Office of
Our Lady (“After childbirth thou didst remain a Virgin: O Mother of God, intercede for us”).
“While we were there, it was packed with people from all over Brazil for
World Youth Day. And there was this nun coming towards me. And she literally
had a path cleared and she came straight at me and gave me this tiny little packet of pills,” said Mrs Videtta.
“I didn’t want to take them, firstly because I was a little scared of nuns
and secondly because we were flying back to New Zealand,” she added.
Despite “awful thoughts I was going to be on border security or something”,
Mrs Videtta took the pills at the urging of the people around her and put them
in her pocket. She planned to throw them away later, but somehow forgot.
When she came back to New Zealand, she found the paper pills among her
things. “I just put them in my Brazil scrapbook and forgot all about them,”
In October last year, she heard that Mrs Hanekonhull had cancer that was
inoperable and terminal.
Mrs Videtta thought of the paper pills but was hesitant to give them to Mrs
“I couldn’t stop thinking about those pills. I talked to my husband, Mario. His first wife died of cancer. I said to him, ‘If your wife was given these
pills by somebody, what would she have done’? And he said, ‘She would
have taken them. She’d do anything,’” Mrs Videta recounted.
The pills were accompanied by a nine-day novena which Mrs Videtta translated from Portuguese to English. She put the pills and novena in a card.
“I said, ‘This is what I’ve got, this is what you’re supposed to do. It’s up to
you.’ And it was about a week later, Ilse phoned me about Wednesday morning,
and she said I’m on day five. I’ve just taken my second pill and I feel
amazing. And I was just blown away,”she said.
The two women who previously were just casual acquaintances became close friends. They started meeting and praying every Wednesday. Those meetings
eventually attracted other people and became a bigger group.
The Meadowbank Catholic Youth Group, 10 of whom went to Brazil, also started praying for Mrs Hanekomhull.
They also told the people they met in Brazil of the miracle, giving them regular
updates. Those people also started praying for her.
Mrs Hanekomhull, a Protestant South African, was happy to give praise to God for the miracle he gave her. “I said to God, if he saves me, if he gives
me a longer time, if this is the miracle I’ve been praying for, I’ll do anything,” she said.
Last month, Mrs Hanekonhull went back to the doctor. She said his expression
when he saw her was priceless. “I said, ‘You told me I’m going to be dead,
but I told you I’m God’s miracle baby, and here I am’,” she said.
The doctor listened to her lungs and found nothing wrong. He didn’t even
send her for a scan, cancelled all her other appointments and instead set
another one for January 2015.
“I tell everybody about the pills. I tell everybody, even the people in my
own church. To me, it’s got nothing to do with anything else, except God that
did it,” she said.
Mrs Videtta organised a fundraising event on October 18 for their trip to
the next World Youth Day in Poland — sales of a community cookbook called
Our Daily Bread, which lists recipes contributed by the members of the
parish. Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn’s favourite recipes were included, as well
as some of Pope Francis’s.
The book was also dedicated to Mrs Hanekomhull, who plans on joining
by ROWENA OREJANA