Listen to this story:
ROME – As Pope Francis’s native Argentina finds itself on the brink of hyperinflation and led by a president and vice president in a public dispute, the country’s bishops say the people are “starving,” hungry both in body and spirit.
“Today our homeland is a hungry, bewildered, worried and wounded people. Many families lack daily bread and decent work. Poverty has grown,” said Archbishop Carlos Alberto Sánchez of Tucuman on Saturday, July 9.
“There is hunger for justice and dignity, for respect and care for life in all its stages. There is hunger for social peace, respect for the constitution and authentic democracy.”
“There is hunger for dialogue, encounter and participation to overcome divisions and confrontations. There is a hunger for truth, for an education that puts the human person in first place, that does not impose ideologies, that leads to thinking and realizing oneself with dignity,” he said.
“There is a hunger for freedom and for a more secure and cordial life. There is a hunger for trust and joint work among all for the good of all. There is hunger for hope and consolation… There is hunger for fraternity and love,” saud Sánchez.
His remarks came on Argentina’s Independence Day from Spain. As it is customary, a Te Deum (a ritual of thanksgiving to God) was celebrated in the Cathedral of Tucuman, a northern city, where in 1816, independence was declared in this South American nation.
Breaking with tradition, President Alberto Fernandez did not attend the ceremony despite being in Tucuman. He took part in an official celebration, but he has barely been seen in public since the July 2 resignation of Martin Guzman, former Minister of the Economy.
Fernandez and his vice president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, have been publicly clashing for months, and the resignation of Guzman is seen as a victory for her. However, his replacement has failed to garner the confidence of the markets. The economy appears in freefall, generating fears and resulting in panic-buying and quick price hikes as the informal exchange rate soars.
Kirchner, a former president who continues to hold a strong base of support despite facing charges in Argentina’s justice system for corruption, mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds, selected Fernández, who lacked the political clout for his own candidacy, to lead the ticket with her as vice president shortly before the 2019 election.
The alliance was forged to defeat center-right President Mauricio Macri. However, the tenuous coalition quickly began to sour, and in the past few months tensions have become public, with Kirchner openly criticizing Fernández in public speeches as the country continues to deteriorate.
Six in 10 people in Argentina have been poor at some point in the last decade and thirty percent of Argentines have known nothing but poverty, according to the annual report from the Catholic Church released in June.
Bishop Oscar Ojea of San Isidro and president of the Argentine bishops’ conference used July 9 to reflect on the country’s economic woes and also what he called a “real political crisis.”
Ojea said courage is needed for the divisions in society to be overcome, more so if Argentina is to stop the thousands of young people who want to flee the country in search of better opportunities and economic stability.
“When we can learn to support those who need it, we are building the homeland. I am not referring to the homeland as a territorial extension or as a consensus of wills that we call a ‘nation,’ but that homeland that has to do with the root of a new history.”
“For this we have to have a lot of courage, a lot of decision, a lot of audacity and a lot of creativity – especially, at this moment, the leadership,” Ojea said.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma