Pope canonizes “Mama Antula”

Pope Francis elevated María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, the first female saint from his native Argentina, to sainthood.

María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, more commonly known by her Quechua name of “Mama Antula,” was born in 1730 into a wealthy family in Santiago del Estero, a province north of Buenos Aires. At the age of 15, she left her home’s comfortable life and her family’s privileges to join the Jesuits — at a time when women’s options were limited to marriage or joining a convent.

Even though the Jesuits had been expelled from Latin America then, she encouraged spiritual practices like prayer and meditation, walking thousands of kilometres barefoot, and involving the rich and the poor in her initiatives.

Francis first authorized her beatification in 2016 after the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints recognized a miracle linked to Mama Antula. It was the inexplicable healing in 1905 of a seriously ill nun belonging to the religious order in charge of the House of Spiritual Exercises founded by Mama Antula in Buenos Aires.

The second miracle that opened the door to her canonization came in 2017 when a former Jesuit seminarian was left on the verge of death from a stroke. A friend brought a picture of Mama Antula to the hospital and stuck it on the vital signs monitor. The man improved and left intensive care.

She was called a “gift to the Argentine people and also to the entire Church” by Francis, a Jesuit himself. By letting her heart and life be “touched” and “healed” by Christ, he added, “she proclaimed him tirelessly her whole life long, for she was convinced, as she loved to repeat: ‘Patience is good, but perseverance is better.’” 

Sickness and healing were the key themes in Pope Francis’ homily during the canonization of Mama Antula, which also coincides with the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick.

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