BUENOS AIRES – Bishop Santiago Olivera of the Military Ordinariate of Argentina celebrated Mass May 11 to honor Blessed Bishop Mamerto Esquiú on his feast day.
Pope Francis' native country is flush with potential saints
"Blessed Friar Mamerto Esquiú helps us to see ourselves as brothers and sisters and live fraternally. He was a great man, a gift to us and to our homeland," Bishop Olivera told OSV News.
The Mass was a fitting moment for both men. Bishop Esquiú, who died 140 years ago, was beatified in 2021. Bishop Olivera, in addition to heading the country's military diocese, is in charge of the commission for the causes of saints for Argentina's bishops.
While neighboring Brazil has the highest number of saints in South America, Argentina, the home country of Pope Francis, has a growing list of those canonized and beatified.
Argentina has four saints, one canonized by Pope John Paul II and three by Pope Francis.
Bishop Olivera's job is to facilitate the process for 16 men and women who have been beatified and for nine venerable, including one who could be beatified later this year, and more than 50 who are servants of God.
"Our job is to make sure that the causes are not personal or that of a diocese or congregation, but a national cause. The cause of one is the cause of all and, in this way, the commission explains the causes and their stages," Bishop Olivera said.
Movements on several of the causes leave Bishop Olivera hopeful that they will soon step up to the next level.
The first one concerns Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, who served as prefect of what is now the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and later as president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. He was instrumental in organizing the first international World Youth Day in 1987 in Buenos Aires.
Cardinal Pironio was declared venerable by Pope Francis in 2022, and on May 4 the medical commission in Rome determined that a miracle attributed to the cardinal could not be explained by science. Two other commissions still need to review the findings, but Bishop Olivera said he is confident that the cardinal would be headed toward beatification later this year.
He said that Cardinal Pironio "was a man of peace, of dialogue. Anyone who takes a look at his life will come away with an encouraging word." Cardinal Pironio would be the first cardinal from Argentina to be beatified.
Argentina has several bishops on the canonization track, including Bishop Enrique Angelelli of La Rioja.
Bishop Angelelli was killed by the military in 1976 during the country's last dictatorship. Pope Francis proclaimed him a martyr during his beatification in 2019. He was among an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 victims of forced disappearance, kidnapping, murder and torture during the 1976-83 military rule.
Two other causes are close to Bishop Olivera because of the nature of his office. The first is Enrique Shaw, naval officer turned businessman, who was declared venerable in 2021.
His cause is waiting for the medical commission in Rome to rule on a miracle attributed to him that would lead to beatification. Like Bishop Angelelli, Shaw's cause is closely linked to Pope Francis, who promoted it when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital.
Shaw, a layman and father of nine children, served in the Argentine Navy for 10 years. He went on to found the Christian Association of Business Leaders (ACDE). He used to say that "being a 'boss' is not a privilege. It is a function." When he fell sick and battled cancer, 260 of his employees showed up at the hospital to give blood for a life-saving transfusion. He died at age 41 in 1962.
Bishop Olivera said Shaw's cause is an example for the world. "He would be the first businessman from this continent to be beatified, which is very important. He was an exemplary man who believed in a social economy."
The cause even more closely linked to the military is that of Lt. Col. Argentino del Valle Larrabure, who was kidnapped by guerrillas in August 1974. The father of two died after being held prisoner for just over a year. He was 43. He was publicly declared a servant of God in March.
"The Church is maturing, and the fruit is holiness. In Argentina, I do not think there is any doubt that in recent times the causes (of saints) that are moving forward encourage others," Bishop Olivera told OSV News.
"It has been providential that there is a Pope from Argentina. He does not get involved, but he understands our Church," he said.
Lucien Chauvin writes for OSV News from Montevideo, Uruguay.