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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – With 586,600 viewers during its three-day premier earlier this month, it was watched in the theater by more people than any Brazilian movie in 15 years.
In 10 days, 1.36 million had packed theaters to watch it.
No, it’s not Avatar.
It’s Chico Xavier.
For 35 years, Francisco Cândido da Silva Xavier – known as Chico Xavier – had welcomed hundreds of thousands seeking spiritual counseling in to his humble home in Pedro Leopoldo, in the state of Minas Gerais.
Now, he’s drawing them to theaters.
Check out the trailer for the movie Chico Xavier.
The movie, directed by Daniel Filho, celebrates Chico’s centennial, as on April 2 he would have turned 100.
Chico died in 2002, and he was revered so highly his viewing drew a line of mourners that stretched four kilometers (2.4 miles), with 40 people passing by his coffin per minute.
Brazil’s homage to the legendary spiritist’s work will continue later this year with four more films – Nosso lar (Our home), E a vida continua (And life goes on), As cartas (The letters) and As mães de Chico (The mothers of Chico).
A special stamp, already being sold by the Brazilian postal service, also is part of the celebration.
Spiritism, the philosophical and religious movement Chico Xavier followed, also is the theme of a television novela Escrito nas Estrelas (Written in the stars), which began April 12 and also inspired the TV series A Cura (The Cure), set to debut later this year by TV Globo.
Chico’s life is fit for TV and the silver screen.
He lost his mother at the age of five. Since his father couldn’t afford to raise his nine children, he gave them to godfathers and friends.
Chico suffered in the hands of his godmother, who even stuck a fork in his belly so he would be healed from seeing dead people. He claims his visions began at age 4.
In 1932, Chico published his first book – Parnaso de Além Túmulo (Parnassus from beyond the grave) – featuring unreleased poems written by 56 deceased Brazilian and Portuguese poets through Chico. The work was put together by psychography, which spiritists believe happens when the hand and thoughts of the writer are guided by the deceased.
The work, crafted when he was 21, was acknowledged by critics, who determined his writing had the exact style of the dead poets.
And in 1971, a letter psychographed by Chico was used to get an accused murderer acquitted, setting a precedent in the Brazilian justice system.
In total, Chico published 412 books, donating all the proceeds to charity. The Brazilian spiritist federation (FEB in the Portuguese acronym) has sold 17 million copies, but his work also is published by another 100 outlets who print spiritist material in Brazil.
Chico’s legacy also included a nonprofit network of almost 13,000 spiritist centers in Brazil, which perform social services for the community. There are spiritist societies and groups in 50 other countries, including 30 in the United States.
Spiritism started in France in 1857 by educator Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, who under the pen name Allan Kardec, published five books considered to be the movement’s foundation.
Brazil was home to a world-leading 2.262 million spiritists, according to the Brazilian institute of geography and statistics in 2000. FEB claims there are 30 million practicing spiritists in the country.
Initially, the movement gained attention for its incorporation of the paranormal phenomenon. But now, spiritist meetings feature lectures and the pass, a transfer of energy by the spiritist practitioner through his or her hands to another in order to alleviate that person’s physical and spiritual sufferings.
“It was an initial phase of curiosity,” says João Aparecido Ribeiro, vice president of the spiritist center Lar de Tereza, in Rio de Janeiro. “Today [the movement] is an element of spiritual education. The centers are formed by common people.”
Antônio Flávio Pierucci, professor of sociology at USP (University of São Paulo), who is an expert in the sociology of religion, says the belief of reincarnation also makes the doctrine so popular in the country.
“Thinking of life as an evolutionary process is very modern,” Pierucci says. “You return from each reincarnation more perfect.”