One may or may not agree with Mecking's religious beliefs or his theology, but his story is an inspiring one about a man fighting back against great odds.
In 1977 Henrique Mecking was the world's third rated player behind Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi. He was so popular that in Brazil he was compared to the great soccer player Pele and the race car driver Emerson Fittipaldi.
At the peak of his career, right after Fischer had quit, Mecking was being hailed by some as the next Fischer. Then disaster struck. At the beginning of the Interzonal in 1979 in Rio de Janeiro he withdrew on medical advice after the 2nd round. He was subsequently diagnosed with a serious disease called myasthenia gravis which affects the nervous system and muscles.
The disease is considered incurable and he was forced to withdraw from chess and begin a fight for his life. He returned to the Catholic religion and over the next 12 years studied theology and Catholic philosophy and practiced his faith with great fervor and was able to return to chess is 1991.
Speaking of his experience, Mecking said, "Jesus saved my life. But God’s will was such that he did not want me to recover 100 percent. I still have the occasional crisis, but nothing that is life threatening and in essence I have the disease under control.” Mecking wrote of his experience in a book titled Como Jesus Cristo Salvou A Minha Vida (As Jesus Christ Saved My Life).
Mecking was already quite ill when he left the Interzonal in 1979; he wore layers of clothing, but could not get warm and a special rest area that had been set up for him backstage, but it did not help relieve his fatigue. After he withdrew from chess there were only occasional rumors and they were not good...he would never play again and his demise was immanent.
Then in 1991 the chess world received stunning news. Mecking was telling everyone that he was cured by Jesus Christ and was studying to be a priest and...he was going to play a match against Predrag Nikolic. He never returned to his pre-illness chess strength, but that is not his real story.
In the beginning of 1978 Mecking was in the U.S. and was informed by doctors that in its acute stage they could do nothing to save his life and he would probably die within days. Within a year he had a crises as things got worse. By 1979 he was unable to chew and was reduced to a liquid diet and after six weeks it was believed he was going to die. By that time there was no strength left in his arms and he was so weak he could not even brush his teeth. He also suffered terribly from the cold and despite the warm weather, he had to cover himself with four blankets.
Mecking had been raised as a Catholic and at the age of 18 or 19 he left the church, but after becoming ill, in 1977 he returned to it. Then in 1978 he heard of a group called Catholic Charismatic Revival that prayed for the sick and some claimed to have been healed. So, because he was dying, he began to pray with this group. Three persons came to his house, one of whom was well-known in Brazil, a lady known as Zia (Aunt) Laura, and they prayed for him. While Mecking was not immediately healed, his condition greatly improved.
Mecking wrote that in Brazil Our Lady had appeared in two places and after he visited those two locations, he was again able to play chess and even gave a simultaneous. Then in 1986 he visited the city of Pesquiera where Our Lady had appeared nine times and he was completely healed.
During the time of his illness he took no Western medicine, but used homeopathic medicine and after he was healed he was able to quit even that and he called his homeopathic doctor to tell him that his services were no longer needed. He still adheres to a special diet in which he rarely eats meat.
When asked if he was able to pray for others and they would be healed, Mecking replied that he could not. He explained that one would not always be healed because one day everyone must die and that Jesus heals when He wants to, not when the person wants.
After he finished his theological studies he prayed a lot and asked the advice of a priest to try and determine what Jesus wanted of his life: be a priest, play chess only against weak players, play at a low level without preparation, or return to serious chess at a high level. He felt he wanted to be a priest, but was determined to do what Jesus wanted, not what he wanted. After much prayer he was positive that Jesus wanted him to play chess seriously again and in 1991 matches against Predrag Nikolic and Yasser Seirawan were arranged. He said that he realized that he cannot win every game and he was OK with that, nor did he know what's in the future regarding chess, but whatever it is he was at peace about it. Speaking of his faith, Mecking has said, "I detest being seen as a religious fanatic. I am not - I am devoted to religion like I am devoted to chess."
While he did not reached his pre-illness level, according to FIDE records he has played no rated games since February 2013 and rating is a hefty 2606.