ROSARIO, Argentina – When a pope has no global leaders visiting him on a regular basis, and no appointments with bishops from around the world doing their regular trek to the Eternal City, what does he do?
Well, if you’re Pope Francis, you use the time to dispatch personal notes and emails.
Last weekend, he sent a note to pay homage to a priest from Argentina who died of cancer Aug. 16. Known as a poet, singer, and a defender of Argentina’s biodiversity, Father Julian Zini penned some of the country’s most famous Mass songs.
“I consider him one of the great ‘Poets of the People,’ a creator of song, of life, of beauty,” Francis said in the handwritten note sent to the northern province of Corrientes, where Zini ministered most of his life. The letter was read Saturday during a TV special honoring the life of this priest, defined as a man who “embraced” the Second Vatican Council.
The songs Zini wrote, Francis argues in his letter, now belong to “that people to which he gave his priestly life, they are of that humble people whom he served with generosity as a father who only knows how to give life.”
“To Fr. Julian, ‘a thank you as big as your heart deserves’”, the pontiff wrote, before closing with his usual request for people to pray for him.
Zini was a member of the “Movement of Priests for the Third World,” founded after the Second Vatican Council by a group of priests who had a strong political and social participation. Between 1967 and 1976 the movement worked as an Argentine version of Liberation Theology, with ties to leftwing Peronism but with less affinity for Marxism.
Peronism, named after General Juan Doming Peron, is Argentina’s most important political party, technically called Justicialismo, Though Peron’s philosophy was tied with “doing what needs to be done” at any given time, which leads the party to fluctuate on issues such as taxes and privatization of public services, it’s always been labeled as a force close to the country’s poor and which favors unions.
Even though there were no bishops involved in the movement of Priest for the Third World, their founding document is based in the declaration of Medellin from the Conference of Catholic Bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM) and Vatican II, and tied poverty in the Third World to exploitation by multinational firms of industrialized countries. The first meeting of the movement took place in 1968, with the explicit support of several bishops, including Enrique Angelelli, today a candidate for sainthood declared a martyr by Pope Francis.
Zini was persecuted during Argentina’s last military regime (1976 – 1983), that caused thousands of “disappeared,” meaning people who were kidnapped by the army, tortured and killed, without their parents or families knowing what truly happened to them.
The Bishop of Goya, where Zini lived, in Argentian’s Corrientes province, announced the dead of the “poet priest” saying: “We raise a prayer for the eternal rest of those who left their ministry, their music and their poetry as a legacy forever in the Church.”
Father Victor Arroyo, also from Goya, and who went with Zini to the seminary, sent a video message to the homage paid to the late priest. In it, he said: “Julián, how we will miss you in these times of so much darkness and sorrow. Companion of the soul, my imagination places you around a firepit with Angelelli and so many priest friends who risked it all for their people and with so many musician with whom you shared your time, may you enjoy the fullness you dreamed of with your restless, dreamy and supportive heart.”
Beyond being a parish priest, Zini was also a singer and poet, well known in the country’s
“folkloric” scene. His songs were an example of popular religiosity, expressing the joys and anguishes of the people he served, whom he once defined as a constant source of inspiration.
One of his most famous songs, written as the anthem for Argentina’s 10th Eucharistic Congress held in Corrientes, is “Jesus Eucharist” and was showcased repeatedly during the TV special where the pope’s letter was red: “Jesus Christ, Lord of History; who is, who was and who will be; you are Presence, Hope and Memory; You are the God of Life made Bread.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma