By Justin McLellan
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Christians should look to Argentina’s soon-to-be saint to learn how to live charitably in an age of individualism, Pope Francis said.
In Blessed Maria Antonia de Paz Figueroa, known affectionately as “Mama Antula,” Christians can “find an example and inspiration that revives a preference for the least, for those who society discards and casts aside,” the pope told a group of Argentine pilgrims during a meeting at the Vatican Feb. 9.
The charity of Argentina’s first female saint “imposes itself with great force in the midst of a society that risks forgetting that radical individualism is the most difficult virus to overcome,” he said.
The pope was scheduled to declare the 18th-century consecrated laywoman a saint during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Feb. 11. Argentine President Javier Milei was expected to attend and scheduled to meet with the pope the following morning.
Seated in the front row of pilgrims during their Feb. 9 meeting with the pope was Claudio Perusini, the Argentine man who significantly and inexplicably recovered from a stroke through the intercession of Mama Antula.
Archbishop Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva of Buenos Aires and Bishop Vicente Bokalic Iglic of Santiago del Estero, Argentina, where Mama Antula is originally from, also attended the meeting.
Pope Francis told them that the path to holiness requires “trust and abandonment,” and recalled how on her route of evangelization Mama Antula arrived in Buenos Aires “with only a crucifix and barefoot, because she didn’t put her security in herself but in God; she trusted that her arduous ministry was his work.”
After founding a community of consecrated laywomen, Mama Antula walked throughout northern Argentina for some 20 years holding retreats to conduct the Ignatian spiritual exercises, sometimes in secret, following the expulsion of Society of Jesus from the country in 1767.
“She experienced what God wants for each of us, that we may discover his call, each in their own state of life, whatever it may be,” the pope said.
He also praised the future saint’s persistence in sharing the spiritual exercises despite receiving resistance from Argentina’s ruling class in Buenos Aires. Some in the Argentine nobility clandestinely attended the spiritual exercises she organized there.
Mama Antula’s life is a message for Christians “not to give up in the face of adversity, not to give up in our good intentions to bring the Gospel to all, despite the challenges that this may represent,” Pope Francis said.
He added that being with the family or in workplaces should be seen as occasions to “challenge our surroundings by bringing the joy of the Gospel” into them.
The pope also highlighted Mama Antula’s “great ardor for the Eucharist, which should be the center of our life.” He invited them to be “participate seriously” in the canonization Mass Feb. 11 and to be “witnesses of this gift for the Argentine people, but also for the whole church.”