Avenida Belgrano 2675. Here along
the street elderly ladies, widows in pearls, dark stockings and silver perms,
trade umbrellas to face the long lines as they await the rain that arrives like
clock work at the end of the procession. “Bishop,
sorry but we have to suspend the outdoor celebrations”. Your Excellency. Your Grace. My respects.
Sixty-six year old Bishop Mario
Aurelio Poli, Papa Bergoglio ’s successor as leader of the Archdiocese of Buenos
Aires, responds with a shy and determined nod. Balvanera in the dioceses of Buenos Aires: people aren’t running,
today things are moving slowly. “This is my flock. Normal people, you see”. The Basilica
of St Rose of Lima
is is decked in lights like a carousel. On the newsstands are Thursday's
political magazine whose cover pictures a caricature of some local MPs who are
at the center of rail transport controversy.
It ’s raining on the “bridge” of
St Rose, the longest patronal feast of the year: three full days of
celebrations and processions for the Peruvian saint. Argentina is a country where
religion is lived publicly: in churches, on the streets, in the quarters, on
radio and television. There are days in Buenos
Aires where the hours mark time between deep
spirituality and solidarity toward those struggle to carry on.
And it is precisely during
the last week of August and the first of September that, each year, these
things walk on the legs of the thousands of participants in the processions to
the Shrine of St Rose of Lima,
Patroness of Peru. It is one of the most moving and heartfelt gatherings for
the faithful. It is the heart and centre of popular religious expression in a
city like Buenos Aires.
People set out during the daytime on Saturday. The
first of three days. At the head of the long caravan is the little statue of
the Saint. The fair virgin with dark hair protects those who are marginalized.
Her image is found all over Argentina,
in the hospitals, and in every train station. The taxi and bus drivers keep an
image on the dashboard. Everyone calls upon her to listen and protect them.
Having come together primarily through social networks and by word of mouth,
somewhere around seven thousand people join in prayer. At 7:00 am the Basilica
is already filled with families, the elderly and children. In an intense yet
brief homily Archbishop Mario Poli says in simple words: “Pope Francis has brought to the
Church a breath of hope, relief and joy in living and thinking according to the
The faithful in procession reach Sarandi street. The
cartoneros are there, an army that
crawls along sidewalks collecting every scrap of paper it can salvage to be
sold to industrial recyclers. On the opposite side, a row of refreshment stands
where they offer the traditional sweet of Santa
Rosa as they wait for the storm. The weather in the
city can be frightening. It lasts only a brief while, but is characterized by
low temperatures, strong winds and sometimes torrential downpours accompanied
by thunder and lightning. It forms in the Southern Cone, in Argentina
between 25 August and 5 September. It never fails, it recurs with impressive
precision. Its appearance signals the end of winter and is caused by the
collision of huge masses of cold and hot air fronts.
Everyone knows what the “storm of St Rose” is. The name
comes from the story of the prayer made by the Peruvian religious. She was
calling on the Lord to block the landing of Dutch pirates in Lima. Sometimes the biographies tell
exemplary stories, as a saint’s ought to be, and yet they almost always neglect to set
them within their proper context.
- the first saint of South America, called the mystic of Peru - was born in Lima on 20 April 1586. At baptism she
received the name Isabella after her maternal grandmother. She was called Rose
for the first time by the Indian servant Mariana while still in the cradle on
account of her great beauty. The name has remained with her ever since.
At night she prayed, and by day
she worked as a farmhand. Rosa lived an
ascetic life, wearing a hair shirt and practicing fasting and penance.
Fascinated by St Catherine of Siena,
she took her as her model. Her austere life aroused much suspicion, as did her heavenly visions, but
the Church confirmed that she was following along a straight path.
Then, with the passing of years, a long illness was
joined to the suffering she had voluntarily taken on. Rosa
begged the Lord: “Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase
Your love in my heart”. And to her parents who advised
moderation and were concerned about her excessive penances, she replied: “If
men but knew what it is to live in grace, they would not be frightened by
suffering and would gladly suffer any pain”. Rose had a very
familiar relationship with her guardian angel, whom she listened to and who
gave her commands and messages. More than once, he brought her the medicine she
needed in order to recover.
Her love for Christ and
the Church was such that, one day, Rose had to defend Lima from the assault by Dutch calvinists.
For they had attacked the city led by the Spitberg fleet. So Rose drew new to
the altar: she embraced the Tabernacle and remained glued there until the city
was suddenly liberated when the Dutch Admiral was struck dead.
During her life Rose shared in the sufferings of the
Indians who were humiliated and scorned: when she died, there was such a crowd at
her funeral to greet her that her burial had to be postponed several times. Mary
miracles are reported to have occurred at her tomb. St Rose of Lima is often depicted with a garland of
roses on her head. In some cases it is the Child Jesus who is placing it on her
A journalist and writer for television, Silvina P érez directs
the political commentary programs “Millennium” and “Agora” on Rai 3 and serves as a collaborator with “L’Osservatore
For ten years, since 2004, she also also worked at LA7. Born in Argentina and of Italian citizenship, after graduating from the
University of Buenos Aires, she collaborated with several weekly magazines,
radio and television networks in Italy and abroad. She also served as Press
Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1999-2001.