La Difunta Correa and Other Saints

Some Saints You’ve Never Heard Of Before

This is a repost from Multiply.Com which I wrote some ten years ago:

Oh, oh! I’ve been thinking about Argentina again, and that means you’re going to hear about some more really obscure (but, IMHO fascinating) stuff.

To begin with, Argentina is such a Catholic country that it had to create additional saints native to its own soil. Let’s begin with La Difunta Correa, which means, literally, the Dead Correa:

According to popular legend, Deolinda Correa was a woman whose husband was forcibly recruited around the year 1840, during the Argentine civil wars. Becoming sick, he was then abandoned by the Montoneras [partisans]. In an attempt to reach her sick husband, Deolinda took her baby child and followed the tracks of the Montoneras through the desert of San Juan Province. When her supplies ran out, she died. Her body was found days later by gauchos that were driving cattle through, and to their astonishment found the baby still alive, feeding from the deceased woman’s “miraculously” ever-full breast. The men buried the body in present-day Vallecito, and took the baby with them. [from Wikipedia] All over the country, there are roadside shrines to La Difunta Correa, many surrounded by gifts left by truck drivers and travelers in a hope for a safe journey to their destination. Remember that Argentina is the eighth largest country on earth, and that distances can be farther than one ever imagines, especially on unpaved ripio roads.

There are two other popular saints with shrines all across the nation: Gauchito Gil (“Little Gaucho Gil”) and El Ángelito Milagroso, a.k.a. Miguel Ángel Gaitán.

Gauchito Gil hails from the state of La Rioja. A farmworker, Gil was seduced by a wealthy widow. When the police chief, who also had a thing for the widow, and her brothers came after Gil, he joined the army in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay (perhaps the bloodiest war ever fought in the Americas, with the exception of our own Civil War). When he returned home, the Army came after him to join in one of Argentina’s many civil wars. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Gauchito deserted. He was discovered by the police, who wanted to execute him. Whereupon Gil prophesied to the head of the police detail that if he were merciful, the officer’s child, who was gravely ill, would get better. Instead of being shown mercy, Gil was executed.

When he returned home, the police officer found that his son was indeed very ill. So he prayed to Gauchito Gil, and his son got better. It was this police officer who returned to the scene of the execution, gave Gil a proper burial, and built a shrine in his memory. Today there are hundreds of such shrines scattered throughout the country.

By the way, the Gauchito is not the only deserter hero in Argentina’s past. Perhaps the national epic is Martin Fierro by José Hernández, about a gaucho who deserts from the so-called “Conquest of the Desert”—really a war of genocide against the native tribes of the Pampas—and is pursued by the police militia.

The Nineteenth Century in Argentina was unusually bloody, what with civil war, wars against the native peoples, and wars against other countries such as Paraguay and Brazil. So it is not unusual to find deserters as heroes, which is unthinkable in Europe and North America.

Finally, there is another La Rioja “saint” named Miguel Ángel Gaitán, El Ángelito Milagroso, who died at the tender age of one in 1967. When his body didn’t rot, the locals thought that meant it was supposed to be exposed for veneration—and so it was.

10,000+ Saints

Saint Andrew, Patron Saint of Scotland

Today is All Saints Day, which neatly occupies a space between Halloween and the Day of the Dead (All Souls, or the Dia de los Muertos in Mexico). It is one of the Catholic “Holy Days of Obligation,” when the observant believer was required to attend church services, even if they didn’t fall on the Sabbath.

It is said that there are more than 10,000 saints recognized by the Catholic Church. Just one grouping consists of St Maurice and the entire Roman legion he commanded, the garrison of Thebes in Egypt, consisting of over 6,000 souls, who had converted to Christianity and were martyred by decimation in AD 286 by order of the Emperor Maximian. I’m not even sure the Church knows the names of the members of that garrison.

When I was in grade school at St Henry (himself the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II who ruled from AD 1004 t0 1024), the Dominican nuns would reward us for good behavior with what we called holy cards, which are now called prayer cards. They’re still around:

Prayer Card for St Cecelia, Patron of Music

I remember once visiting San Cristobal de Las Casas (named after St Christopher, who is no longer officially venerated) during the Feast of St Cecelia held around the local church named after her. It was one of the best Mexican fiestas I ever attended.

When I visit Christian churches that are not richly decorated with statues, stained glass windows, and paintings depicting the saints, I feel that there is something missing. I often think the bare white walls could do with a few saints. After all, the Bible was written two or more thousand years ago: I see the saints as manifestations that the Christian God did not simply go on vacation after the Crucifixion to work on His tan.

In Lima, Peru, I visited the burial of three New World saints of the 16th century, one of whom, St Martin de Porres, was African-American. His feast day is celebrated on November 3, Election Day this year.

St Martin de Porres in the Chapel Dedicated to Him

If it seems strange to you that a non-practicing Catholic such as myself feels the way I do about the saints, I see it as part of the richness of the Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) religion that appeals to me. In their own way, the saints update Christianity.

I may not be a good Catholic, but I prayed to St Martin de Porres when I visited his chapel and saw where he was buried.

Cherry-Picking the Bible

What I Heard on the #704 Bus

Today, I went by bus to the Original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax. On the return trip, I took he MTA #704 from Fairfax and Santa Monica back to my apartment in West L.A. I was treated to an interesting conversation between two Christian women sitting in front of me. They had each read certain fashionable sections of the Bible—but not the entire Bible—and were talking at cross-purposes during the entire 40-minute ride. They used a lot of five dollar words like “tribulation” and freely speculated what was in the Mind of the Creator. They had slightly conflicting views of hell, and went into great detail on how worms devoured buried corpses.

Raised as a Roman Catholic, I never regarded the Bible as the only authoritative source of God’s word. To do that would be to admit that God perhaps existed two thousand years ago, but has not had anything to say to man during the intervening two millenia. (Catholics believe that God also has spoken  through the Saints.)

The two women were passing a Bible back and forth so that they could score points off each other. I noticed that theirs was a Protestant Bible, minus the books and selected chapters that Martin Luther had pulled—although they were set in concrete by the 5th century A.D.— well before the Christian/Orthodox and Catholic/Protestant splits. These books included:

  • 1 and 2 Esdras
  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Wisdom (one of my favorite books)
  • Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach)
  • 1 and 2 Maccabees

Was Martin Luther inspired by God to cut these books? Or did they go against his own religious beliefs?

That’s a big problem with the Bible. Which version does one thump? I prefer the Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha, because it doesn’t reflect any one person’s views. Also, if I were a part of that argument between the two women, I would have made the following points:

  • The Bible is not the only authoritative Word of God: There is also The Cloud of Unknowing, The Imitation of Christ, and many great works by the Saints
  • There are many great passages in the Bible (especially Psalms and Ecclesiastes), but there’s also a lot of dreck that virtually no one believes, such as are found in the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, and a few other places
  • I believe in God (or The Gods), but I do not presume to look into the Mind of God

Of course, if I had opened my mouth, I am sure I would have been damned to Heck by both women, who were not about to listen to a vile heretic like me.

 

Roadside Saints

Argentinians Have Made Up Some of Their Own Saints

Argentinians Have Made Up Some of Their Own Saints

This comes from a post on Multiply.Com which I wrote on August 18, 2011. Some changes have been made:

Oh, oh! I’ve been thinking about Argentina again, and that means you’re going to hear about some more really obscure (but, IMHO fascinating) stuff.

To begin with, Argentina is such a Catholic country that it had to create additional saints native to its own soil. Let’s begin with La Difunta Correa, which means, literally, the Dead Correa:

According to popular legend, Deolinda Correa was a woman whose husband was forcibly recruited around the year 1840, during the Argentine civil wars. Becoming sick, he was then abandoned by the Montoneros [partisans]. In an attempt to reach her sick husband, Deolinda took her baby child and followed the tracks of the Montoneros through the desert of San Juan Province. When her supplies ran out, she died. Her body was found days later by gauchos that were driving cattle through, and to their astonishment found the baby still alive, feeding from the deceased woman’s “miraculously” ever-full breast. The men buried the body in present-day Vallecito, and took the baby with them. [from Wikipedia]

All over the country, there are roadside shrines to La Difunta Correa, many surrounded by gifts left by truck drivers and travelers in a hope for a safe journey to their destination. Remember that Argentina is the eighth largest country on earth, and that distances can be farther than one imagines, especially on unpaved ripio roads.

There are two other popular saints with shrines all across the nation: Gauchito Gil (“Little Gaucho Gil”) and El Ángelito Milagroso (“The Little Miraculous Angel”), a.k.a. Miguel Ángel Gaitán.

Gauchito Gil hails from the state of La Rioja near the Bolivian border. A farmworker, Gil was seduced by a wealthy widow. When the police chief, who also had a thing for the widow, and her brothers came after Gil, he joined the army in the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay (perhaps the bloodiest war ever fought in the Americas, with the exception of our own Civil War). When he returned home, the Army came after him to join in one of Argentina’s many civil wars. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Gauchito deserted. He was discovered by the police, who wanted to execute him. Whereupon Gil prophesied to the head of the police detail that if he were merciful, the officer’s child, who was gravely ill, would get better. Instead of being shown mercy, Gil was executed.

When he returned home, the police officer found that his son was indeed very ill. So he prayed to Gauchito Gil, and his son got better. It was this police officer who returned to the scene of the execution, gave Gil a proper burial, and built a shrine in his memory. Today there are hundreds of such shrines scattered throughout the country.

By the way, the Gauchito is not the only deserter hero in Argentina’s past. Perhaps the national epic is Martin Fierro by José Hernández, about a gaucho who deserts from the so-called “Conquest of the Desert”—really a war of genocide against the native tribes of the Pampas—and is pursued by the police militia.

The Nineteenth Century in Argentina was unusually bloody, what with civil war, wars against the native peoples, and wars against other countries such as Paraguay and Brazil. So it is not unusual to find deserters as heroes, which is unthinkable in Europe and North America.

Finally, there is another La Rioja “saint” named Miguel Ángel Gaitán, El Ángelito Milagroso, who died at the tender age of one in 1967. When his body didn’t rot, the locals thought that meant it was supposed to be exposed for veneration—and so it was.

Yes, But …

Pope (Soon To Be Saint) John Paul II

Pope (Soon To Be Saint) John Paul II

This week’s upcoming canonization of two Twentieth Century popes has many people hot under the collar. Although he did not succeed in cleaning up the child abuse mess among the Catholic clergy, I think he was an outstanding human being. His forgiveness of Mehmet Ali Agca, who came close to assassinating him on May 13, 1981, shows him to have been a real Christian.

While listening to the radio on the way to work this morning, I heard the usual complaints about his having done nothing to punish Cardinal Roger Mahony for reassigning guilty priest-predators to new parishes. This is an administrative matter, and Mahony; while certainly in the wrong, did not come under papal purview at this level. This is a problem across the entire Catholic world, with entire seminaries devoted to producing gay priests who are likely to molest the children of parishioners. At a time when the number of young people with religious callings is rapidly dwindling, many in Rome are afraid to stage what would amount to a major purge of religious.

Ultimately, the culprit is priestly celibacy. For hundreds of years, priests have not been allowed to marry in the Roman Catholic Church; but it is not forbidden among the Eastern Rites who do allow their clergy to marry. These include the West Syrian (Maronite), Armenian, Byzantine, and East Syrian rites, all of which recognize the authority of the Pope. I have always thought that the Church will ultimately change its mind on this score. Doing so would be attended with problems of its own, such as the right of priestly widows and children to inherit church property, which might put them into conflict with the laws of various countries.

But the Orthodox Churches have managed all these years, so it is not inconceivable that the Catholics will ultimately follow suit.

Looking back at what I have written above, I am somewhat disturbed that I have been criticizing John Paul more for the times in which he lived than in what he could and could not accomplish with the Roman Curia. I’m utterly delighted that the church turned to Communist Poland for its new pontiff, and that John Paul had such a major role in putting an end to the Communist Blight. He was a good man, and anyone who chooses to emulate him could not go wrong.