Pope to canonize ‘gaucho priest,’ earlier version of himself

Source: Associated Press

FILE- In this Sunday, May 17, 2015 file photo, Pope Francis arrives to celebrate a canonization.


VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis this weekend will canonize Argentina’s “gaucho priest,” the poncho-wearing, mate-sipping pastor who rode his mule Malacara to the far-flung peripheries of Argentina to minister to the poor.

In many ways, Francis will be honoring a 19th-century version of himself.

Born in 1849 in the province of Cordoba, Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero was one of the most famous Catholics in the Argentina of Francis’ youth. He died in 1914 after living for years with leprosy that he was said to have contracted from one of his faithful.

Brochero was beatified in 2013, after Pope Benedict XVI signed off on a miracle attributed to his intercession. History’s first Argentine pope cleared him for sainthood earlier this year and on Sunday will canonize Brochero along with six other people in one of the final big Masses of his Holy Year of Mercy.

When Brochero was beatified in 2013, Francis wrote a letter to Argentina’s bishops praising Brochero for having had the “smell of his sheep.” That’s a phrase Francis has frequently used to describe his ideal pastor: one who accompanies his flock, walking with them through life’s ups and downs.

“He never stayed in the parish office, he got on his mule and went out to find people like a priest of the street — to the point of getting leprosy,” Francis wrote.

Francis, who like Brochero and most Argentines adores his mate tea, has exhorted his pastors to go to the peripheries to find wounded souls and bring them God’s mercy. Francis himself has travelled to some of the most forgotten corners of the world to minister to the faithful, and as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was known for riding public transport around town and visiting the capital’s slums to celebrate Mass for prostitutes and drug addicts, the most marginal of society.

Another parallel shared by the two Argentines is Brochero’s spirituality, which is deeply rooted in the Jesuit spiritual exercises that are so dear to Francis. Just as Brochero would lead his flock in performing the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, so too does Francis, bringing the entire Vatican hierarchy each year on retreat outside Rome.

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