ROME – On Thursday, the Curas Villeros in Argentina published a brief video of Pope Francis, who had recorded a personal message ensuring them of his prayers for three priests in the movement who are currently infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus.

A group of close to 40 priests who live and work in the slums of Buenos Aires, the Curas have been close to Pope Francis since his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires and are dedicated to social work through a devotion to popular piety, caring specifically for the poor and migrants in the shanty areas where they live.

In his message, published on the Curas Villeros’s Twitter page, the pope said he is close to them “in this moment in which you are fighting with prayer, and the doctors are helping.”

He specifically mentioned Father Basilico “Bachi” Britez, who is known for his social and pastoral work in the poor neighborhood of Almaguerte in San Justo, and which was once called the Villa Palito.

According to Argentine agency, El 1 Digital, Bachi is currently receiving plasma treatment from a recovered patient as he battles the virus.

“Now, he is fighting. He is fighting, because he is not doing well,” Francis said, telling the community, “I am close to you, that I pray for you, that I am accompanying you in this moment. The entire People of God, together with priests who are ill.”

“It is a moment to give thanks to God for the witness of your priest, to ask for his health, and to continue forward,” he said, adding, “Don’t forget to pray for me.”

In addition to their commitment to the poor, the Curas are also self-proclaimed continuers of the work of Father Carlos Mugica, a controversial priest and activist who dedicated his life to working with the poor and social activism. He often hosted talks and events on social issues, including a 1965 symposium on “Dialogue between Catholicism and Marxists.” He was sometimes at odds with his local bishop, including suffering threats of defrocking, before he was assassinated May 11, 1974, by a member of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance.

Francis defended Mugica and his associates during a 2014 interview with an Argentine radio station.

“They were not communists. They were great priests who fought for life,” the pope told the station.

“The work of the priests in the slums of Buenos Aires is not ideological, it’s apostolic, and therefore forms part of the same church,” he continued. “Those who think that it’s another church don’t understand how they work in the slums. The important thing is the work.”

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