Argentine bishops call for more action to tackle country’s economic crisis

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ROSARIO, Argentina – In July, two ministers of Argentina’s economy stepped down, and the yearly inflation rate hit well above 50 percent. Witnessing the country’s woes, the bishops are again asking for real solutions from the government.

Ahead of the Aug. 7 feast of St. Cajetan, the patron of bread and work, the bishops released a statement that said the feast is a call for a dignified life that includes the right for people to live from “the fruit of their work.”

“The bread that is requested for all, that which is achieved with their own work, is a clamor for justice,” they wrote. 

The bishops pointed out that “to ask for work is to ask that all workers have the right to live with dignity from the fruit of their daily efforts and to deploy their potential and talents to contribute to the growth of our country.”

Last week, President Alberto Fernández named Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa to the head of a new, expanded ministry for the economy after the country plunged deeper into a political crisis in July. 

The ministry will now also oversee agriculture and production as well as the country’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund and all other foreign creditors.

Massa takes over from Silvina Batakis, who only got the job July 4, after the abrupt resignation of Martin Guzman. 

Argentina has a poverty rate of 43.8 percent  – 18 million people – and one in ten citizens experiences hunger on a daily basis.

“How can we not think of the growing number of brothers and sisters who daily come to the soup kitchens, of the elderly who cannot buy their medicines, of the families whose incomes are increasingly insignificant?” the bishops said in their statement.

Though the celebration of St. Cajetan never lacks a political punch, a message from the bishops ahead of the feast day is a rarity, particularly seeing that on July 9, the national independence day, the prelates had already spoken about the country’s poverty.

RELATED: In Pope’s native land, bishops say people are ‘starving’ in body and spirit

St. Cajetan in the lives of Argentines

St. Cajetan is the most popular saint in Argentina, and for whom popular devotion is second only to that of Our Lady of Lujan. Often considered a Catholic developer of capitalism, he’s largely venerated as the patron of bankers. 

Cajetan famously founded a lending institution in Naples, Italy, but he also did much more in his life.

He was born Gaetano dei Conti di Thiene to noble parents in October 1480, and later received degrees in both civil and canon law at the age of 24. Soon after, He began working as a diplomat for Pope Julius II, and would continue to do so until the pope’s death. That’s when he began studying to become a priest, eventually being ordained in 1516.

Cajetan also founded the religious Congregation of Clerks Regular, popularly known as the Theatines. One of his four companions in this task would eventually become Pope Paul IV. They lived a monastic form of poverty and prayer and lived and worked closely with the poor in order to combat the political and spiritual corruption of the times.

Concerned both for the spiritual and physical health of the poor, the saint also set up hospitals for the terminally ill, pushed for a reform in the priesthood, calling on his fellow clerics to serve and not be served.

St. Cajetan became Argentina’s second most important devotion due to the work of María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, known as Blessed Mama Antula. In the 18th century, she spent her life keeping Ignatian spirituality alive in the Rio de la Plata, after the king of Spain expelled more than 2,600 Jesuits from the Spanish territories in America.

In 1795, she founded a house for spiritual retreats in Buenos Aires, which is still standing. There, she put an image of St. Cajetan, naming him patron of her evangelizing efforts.

The Shrine of St. Cajetan in Liniers, a neighborhood on the edge of Buenos Aires, usually welcomes close to a million Argentines on his Aug. 7 feast day.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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