Blessed Mama Antula, who was canonized by the Catholic Church this Sunday (11), is considered a pioneer in the defense of human rights in Argentina, during the period of the Spanish colonial viceroyalty of Río de La Plata.
“She had a life of commitment to the excluded, who were indigenous, enslaved, black and peasants,” Cintia Suárez, co-author of her biography together with Italian Nunzia Locatelli, told AFP news agency.
The canonization ceremony was led by the saint’s compatriot, Pope Francis, in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican, with the presence of the president of Argentina, the ultra-rightist Javier Milei. The figure of Mama Antula has recently gained momentum with the pontiff, who has taken it upon himself to publicize her with devotion.
The two miracles reported by the Vatican to begin the canonization process were inexplicable healings. Through her intercession, “the nun Vanina Rosa, who was terminally ill due to a widespread infection, recovered in 1905”, says Suárez. The second case, in 2017, was Argentine Claudio Perusini, who recovered from a stroke, despite having the initial medical prognosis that nothing could be done.
From a street in Buenos Aires, Suárez points to the monumental neoclassical basilica Our Lady of Mercy, saying that this was the place chosen by the pioneering woman defending the human rights of the disadvantaged to be buried.
In one of the side naves of the temple is the mausoleum, in which there is a statue of him dressed in a Jesuit cloak, a cross on his shoulder and a prayer book in his hand.
Committed to “people who were considered things in the colonial period”, the blessed lived between 1730 and 1799, according to the biographer, who states that she was an icon for her time and inspires women to this day.
According to the basilica’s parish priest, Raúl Laurencena, the movement of people to his mausoleum has increased in recent times. “People pray for bread, work and peace. They pray for our country that needs it so much,” he says.
Antula means Antonia in Quechua, the language of the inhabitants of the north of the country. She was born María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa to a wealthy family in Villa Silípica, 40 kilometers from Santiago del Estero, capital of the province of the same name in northwestern Argentina.
A laywoman linked to the Jesuit Order since her adolescence, she left her parents’ home at the age of 15, attracted by the intellectual world and “by the advances that the Jesuits brought from Europe”, according to the biographer. The author based her book on more than 300 handwritten letters found in archives in Rome.
“After traveling more than 4,000 kilometers on foot with her spiritual exercises through the northern provinces, she arrived in Buenos Aires barefoot, with her sandals destroyed and with the cloak that a Jesuit had given her, almost torn, carrying a wooden cross”, he details. .
Oral and documented history agrees that she was mistaken for a witch or a madwoman — which caused young people to throw stones at her — and led her to take refuge in a small chapel, in the place where the basilica was built a century later.
Suárez says that every day Mama Antula became more popular and influential, as she managed to bring together different members of colonial society in her house of prayer. This site is still preserved in the Constitución neighborhood, close to a train station.
In 1767, the monarchy and the papacy expelled and banned the Jesuits, a situation that caused Argentina to “observe a spiritual and social void in the indigenous people integrated into the Jesuit missions”. “They felt desperate,” says the biographer.
Moved by the situation, the blessed reopens her prayer house and travels through the provinces, even though she knows it is a dangerous activity. Later, respected by the bishop and the viceroy, she receives permission to officially open her spiritual house.
“She had a lot of courage and was rebellious in a good way. They called her a strong woman. She used her feminine cunning in a context of prohibition”, highlights Suárez.