- Author, Veronica Smink
- Role, BBC News Mundo, Argentina
She became a spiritual reference in colonial Argentina in the 18th century, an era in which women occupied a very distant background, and some consider her the country’s first feminist.
Is about María Antonia de Paz y Figueroabetter known as Mother Antula -or “Mamá Antonia”, her nickname in Quechua-, who this Sunday becomes the first saint of Argentine origin.
The occasion will be particularly special for the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope Francisconot only because she is a compatriot, but because Mama Antula is one of the figures most revered by the Jesuits, the religious order to which Jorge Bergoglio belongs.
It was she who kept Jesuit traditions alive in the region after the order was banished by the king of Spain.
Although she was born into a wealthy family, Mama Antula spent most of her life on pilgrimage, barefoot, evangelizing, and begging for alms to found “exercise houses,” retreat places where Jesuits perform the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. -the founder of the work- which consist of prayers, meditations and other contemplative practices.
His most outstanding work was the construction of the Holy House of Exercises in the city of Buenos Aires, which he managed to raise entirely with donations.
It was enabled in 1799, the year in which the now saint died, and it is still used, to this day, to carry out spiritual retreats.
María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa went from being a vilified figure to becoming a consultation person for high society and the colonial leadership, and even had influence on some of the heroes who would later achieve independence from Argentina.
Curiously, Mama Antula would also play another important role in the spiritual life of Argentines, since she was the one who introduced the country to the worship in San CayetanoPatron of bread and work, who today continues to be venerated by thousands of faithful who make pilgrimages to pray to him every year.
Mama Antula was born in Santiago del Estero, a poor province in the north of Argentina, in 1730, and from a very young age she decided rebel against patriarchal mandates that fell on women of their social class, refusing to marry or become a nun.
Instead, she became blessed, as consecrated Christian laywomen were called at the time.
At the age of 15, she began to accompany the Jesuits of the Society of Jesus in their task of evangelizing the native peoples, challenging the rules of the time that did not allow young women to travel in the company of men.
Thanks to the education he received from the Jesuits, he learned to read and write – according to his biographers, “it was the first writer from the River Plate”-.
He also learned Quechua (or Quichua, as they call it in northern Argentina), the language of the natives.
Although she was not a formal member of the order, because she was a woman, her work as a disseminator of the Jesuit work would be key, especially due to the role she would take after the dramatic departure of the Society of Jesus from the American continent.
The expulsion of the Jesuits
In 1767, the Catholic king of Spain, Charles III, ordered the expulsion of the Jesuits of the Spanish colonies.
Six years later he managed to get Pope Clement XIV to order the dissolution of the Society of Jesus.
After the exile of the Jesuits, Mama Antula, then 38 years old, had an “epiphany,” according to her devotees: received the mission to continue the practice of spiritual exercisesdespite its prohibition.
At that time he chose his Church name: Maria Antonia de San Joséand dedicated the rest of his life to keeping the work of the Jesuits alive.
First he toured the provinces of northwest Argentina, evangelizing.
And then he did something that is still amazing today: crossed the country, from the north to the centerspending time in various provinces, to bring the work of the Jesuits to Buenos Aires, then the center of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.
It is estimated that in total He walked about 4,000 kilometers.
From stones to admiration
Upon arriving in the capital she was far from welcome.
Her poor attire, dirty along the way, caused people to mock her and accuse her of being crazy.
“When she arrived in Buenos Aires, accompanied by three or four other saints, the boys They insulted her, some threw stones at her.“Some said she was a witch, which was very dangerous because witches at that time were burned,” Father Ignacio Pérez del Viso, vice-rector of the Faculties of Philosophy and Theology of San Miguel, told Orbe 21 channel.
She had to seek refuge with her companions in the Church of La Piedad, a place where she felt so at peace that she asked to be buried there when she died.
Nunzia Locatelli and Cintia Suárez, two journalists who have already written four books about Mama Antula, pointed out that the saint “arrived in an unfortunate way.”
“But over time his figure began to take on importance in the city. She went from being rejected by the viceroy and the bishop to being “a person considered to be of consultation”stated the authors during a talk they gave at the last Buenos Aires Book Fair.
His spiritual retreats – which he managed to organize despite the fact that Jesuit practices were supposedly prohibited – became very popular in colonial society.
Several historical figures of Argentina, and founding fathers, made them, including the creator of the Argentine flag, Manuel Belgrano, the founder of the first newspaper, Mariano Moreno, and the president of the First Government Junta, Cornelio Saavedra.
In 1795 he managed to raise funds to begin the construction of what would be his greatest legacy: the Holy House of Spiritual Exercises San Ignacio de Loyola, located on the outskirts of colonial Buenos Aires (in the current neighborhood of Constitución).
It was there where died, aged 69in the last year of the 18th century.
In that building, where over time the blessed women would become nuns of the Daughters of the Divine Savior Society, was the place where the the first of the two miracles that are attributed to Mama Antula.
It happened in 1905, when the nun Vanina Rosa managed to be cured of a serious illness after praying to the founder of the Holy House to heal her.
The confirmation of that miracle led to its beatification in 2016.
A second miracle – the recovery of a man who was on the verge of death after a stroke, in 2017, in the province of Santa Fe, and who had an inexplicable recovery after his wife prayed to Mama Antula – allowed now be declared a saint.
Some say – half jokingly, half seriously – that the saint from Santiago achieved a third miracle: meet Pope Francisco with Javier Milei, the new president of Argentina, who was very critical of the pontiff, and traveled especially to the Vatican for the canonization ceremony.
“Mama Antula is praying for peace and friendship to spread in a time of crisis. “She provoked the meeting between the president and the Pope,” Nunzia Locatelli told the newspaper La Nación.
Both leaders They will meet on Monday at the Vatican.
What many are wondering is whether Milei will be able to convince Francisco that visits to the homelandsomething that the Argentine Catholic community has been demanding for a decade, but about which the Pope has until now been reluctant.
It remains to be seen if Mama Antula achieves this new miracle.
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The post first appeared on www.bbc.com