VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Sunday elevated to sainthood the first female saint from his native Argentina, an event that brought to the Vatican his former vocal critic, Argentine President Javier Milei.Pope Francis led a canonisation Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for Maria Antonia de Pazy Figueroa, better known as “Mama Antula”, an 18th century consecrated lay woman who renounced her family’s riches to focus on charity and Jesuit spiritual exercises.
The ceremony came as Argentina faces its worst economic crisis in decades, with inflation at more than 200pc, and the newly installed Milei in difficulty following parliamentary rejection of a major reform package.
Milei had a front row seat for the service, and at the end of it, exchanged a few words with the pope, as they shook hands and hugged. The president is due to have a private audience with Pope Francis on Monday.
Pope Francis, a former archbishop of Buenos Aires who has angered some of his compatriots by never visiting his homeland since becoming pope in 2013, has said he may finally make the trip in the second half of this year. Mama Antula was the daughter of a wealthy landholder and slave owner.
She promoted spiritual exercises, including prayers and meditation, walking thousands of kilometres barefoot and involving the rich and poor in these endeavours, despite the Jesuits being banished at the time from Latin America.
Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, described her on Friday as a “gift to the Argentine people and also to the entire Church.” Quoting from his past writings, the pope condemned the “radical individualism” that permeates society as a “virus”, in words that may jar with Milei’s radical free-market instincts.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024