Pope Francis met with Argentine pilgrims on Friday morning ahead of the historic canonization of the county’s first female saint on Sunday.
During his address, Pope Francis presented Blessed María Antonia of St. Joseph de Paz y Figueroa, more affectionately known as “Mama Antula,” as an example of “charity” and “an inspiration that revives ‘the option for the last, for those that society discards.’”
The saint’s example and legacy is especially important for us today “in the midst of this society that runs the risk of forgetting that ‘radical individualism is the most difficult virus to defeat. A virus that deceives. It makes us believe that everything consists of giving free rein to one’s own ambitions,’” the pope said, quoting from his encyclical Fratelli Tutti.
Born in 1730 in Silipica, Santiago del Estero, in northern Argentina, María Antonia’s early life was characterized by a fervent desire to serve God. She helped parents with the instruction of their children and administered care to the sick and poor.
Against the backdrop of the suppression of the Jesuits in the Spanish Empire by Charles III, the pope characterized María Antonia as an example of overcoming adversity as she traveled on foot to promote Ignatian spirituality and “to help everyone discover the beauty of following Jesus.”
The pope added that this was no small task given the “aversion that had developed toward Christ, the aversion that had developed toward the Jesuits.”
“She was forbidden to give retreats, so she decided to give them clandestinely. This dimension of clandestinity must not be forgotten,” Pope Francis stressed.
Arguing that it is imperative to not forget this secrecy, the pope told the pilgrims to “not to give up in the face of adversity, not to give up on our good intentions to bring the Gospel to all, despite the challenges.”
María Antonia is as an example of discernment “because she had not placed her security in herself, but in God, trusting that her arduous apostolate was his work,” the pope said.
In this way she “experienced what God wants of each one of us, that we may discover his call, each in our own state of life … it will always be synthesized in doing everything for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
“The path of holiness implies trust and abandonment,” the Holy Father emphasized.
“Firmly rooted in the Lord we must see this as an occasion in which we can challenge our environment to bring the joy of the Gospel,” he added.
Pope Francis will preside over the Mass of canonization in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, Feb. 11, at 9:30 a.m. Argentina’s President Javier Milei will also be present at the ceremony. He will be received in a private audience with the pope on Monday, Feb. 12, at the Vatican.
Matthew Santucci has recently started in EWTN's Vatican bureau. He grew up in Connecticut and has been living in Rome since 2020. He has a B.A. in History from Fordham and an M.A. in International Relations from Luiss Guido Carli.