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Avenida Belgrano, 2675

· Rose of Lima, saint of the month, as told by Silvana Perez ·

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, I’m 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.

The apse of the Church of St Rose in Buenos Aires

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 Christian faith”.

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.

Rose - 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 head.

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 Romano”. 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.

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