Pope Francis canonised Argentina’s “gaucho priest” on Sunday, bestowing sainthood on the poncho-wearing, mate-sipping pastor who rode his mule Malacara to the far-flung Argentine peripheries to minister to the poor. Born in 1849 in the province of Cordoba, Brochero was one of the most famous Catholics in the Argentina of Francis’ youth. He died in 1914 after living for years with leprosy that he was said to have contracted from one of his faithful.
Francis, history’s first Argentine pope, moved Brochero closer to sainthood soon after being elected pope. Brochero was beatified in 2013, after Pope Benedict XVI signed off on a miracle attributed to his intercession. Francis cleared him for sainthood earlier this year and today canonised Brochero along with six others in one of the final big Masses of his Holy Year of Mercy.
At the time of Brochero’s beatification, Francis wrote a letter to Argentina’s bishops praising Brochero for having had the “smell of his sheep.” That’s a phrase Francis has frequently used to describe his ideal pastor: one who accompanies his flock, walking with them through life’s ups and downs.
“He never stayed in the parish office. He got on his mule and went out to find people like a priest of the street to the point of getting leprosy,” Francis wrote. Among the parallels shared by the two Argentines is Brochero’s spirituality, which is deeply rooted in the Jesuit spiritual exercises that are so dear to Francis. Just as Brochero would lead his flock in performing the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, so too does Francis, bringing the entire Vatican hierarchy each year on a retreat outside Rome.
“If there is one religious figure in Argentina’s history who best exemplifies Pope Francis’s idea of a priest, it’s ‘el cura’ Brochero,” said Austen Ivereigh, author of the Francis biography “The Great Reformer.”
“He lived simply, and for others, at one with the gauchos and poor folk.”