The canonization Mass of St. María Antonia of St. Joseph on Feb. 11, 2024. Vatican Media
During the canonization Mass, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of not ostracizing the poor or the weak but of drawing close to them as Jesus did with the lepers he met.
“How many suffering men and women do we meet on the sidewalks of our cities,” Pope Francis said.
“And how many fears, prejudices, and inconsistencies, even among those who are believers and call themselves Christians, contribute to wounding them all the more!”
Pope Francis has praised Mama Antula as an example of charity for her care for “those whom society discards.”
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María Antonia was born into a wealthy family in 1730 in Silipica, Santiago del Estero, in northern Argentina. She expressed a fervent desire to serve God at a young age. She spent the early part of her ministry helping parents with the instruction of their children and administering care to the sick and poor.
A relic of St. María Antonia of St. Joseph was present in St. Peter's Basilica for the Mass. Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, served as the celebrant at the altar. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Following the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Spanish Empire by King Charles III, she traveled around northern Argentina by foot to safeguard and promote Ignatian spirituality, organizing retreats despite the widespread hostility to the Jesuits.
After the success of these early retreats, she expanded her reach into other regions of Argentina and relocated to Buenos Aires in 1779. While denied permission by imperial authorities to restore the Ignatian tradition, her perseverance paid off when a year later she earned the trust of the local bishop, culminating in the establishment of the House for Spiritual Exercises in Buenos Aires.
She died on March 7, 1799, in Buenos Aires and was buried in the cemetery of the Church of the Pietà there. Her body was later moved inside the church and has become a popular pilgrimage destination.
Pope Francis speaks at the canonization Mass of St. María Antonia of St. Joseph on Feb. 11, 2024. Vatican Media
In his homily, Pope Francis expressed gratitude to Mama Antula for promoting devotion to St. Cajetan, also known as St. Gaetano of Thiene, who is now one of the most popular saints in Argentina.
“Thanks to Mama Antula, this saint, intercessor of Divine Providence, made his way into homes, neighborhoods, transportation, stores, factories, and hearts, to offer a life of dignity through work, justice, and daily bread on the table of the poor,” the pope said.
“Let us pray today to María Antonia, Saint María Antonia de Paz de San José, that she will help us greatly.”
Mama Antula’s feast day will be celebrated on March 7.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">????HIGHLIGHTS | Pope Francis met with the President of Argentina, <a href="https://twitter.com/JMilei?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JMilei</a>, at the end of the Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, where the Holy Father canonized ‘Mama Antula,’ Argentina’s first female saint. <a href="https://t.co/9bDmZDgLHH">pic.twitter.com/9bDmZDgLHH</a></p>— EWTN Vatican (@EWTNVatican) <a href="
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.