By Lucien Chauvin | Catholic News Service
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (CNS) — Uruguay, South America’s most secular country, is poised to get its first homegrown saint.
Bishop Jacinto Vera, the first bishop of Montevideo, was declared venerable in 2015 and on Dec. 17 the Vatican announced that he would be beatified, after Pope Francis formally signed off on a miracle attributed to the future saint.
Bishop Vera’s path to sainthood not only reflects the country’s history, but also the new path for the church in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay under the stewardship of Pope Francis, an Argentine.
“The image of a saint like Jacinto Vera, someone with such important meaning for our country and our history, is of great benefit for Catholics. He walked our country. There is not a place you go where he has not been,” said Father Gabriel González, a professor at the Catholic University of Uruguay who has written extensively about the life and work of Bishop Vera.
Jacinto Vera was born at sea in 1813 to parents who set sail from Spain’s Canary Islands with the goal of reaching farmland in Uruguay, which was still a Spanish colony. He gravitated to the church early in life and studied with the Jesuits in neighboring Argentina until his ordination in 1841 as a diocesan priest.
As bishop of Montevideo, he invited the Jesuits to return to Uruguay and brought in several congregations of women religious to reestablish order to a church on the fringes of the continent. González said the local church was in disarray, but that changed with Bishop Vera. He spent the bulk of his time traveling the country, undertaking three “missions” as bishop. He died in 1881 during his final journey into the hinterland. The journeys are the reason he is referred to locally as the gaucho, or cowboy, saint, because he traveled on horseback.
Bishop Vera’s path to sainthood was interrupted several times, with the cause refiled 90 years ago. It got lost in the Vatican until the 1990s, when Msgr. Alberto Sanguinetti took over as the diocesan postulator. The work concluded in 2012 with a 1,500-page document; Bishop Vera was deemed venerable three years later. Several miracles have been accredited to his intercession. One was a patient who recovered inexplicably from a ruptured liver in 2013. His family prayed to Bishop Vera for his recovery.
The beatification Mass, which could happen in May to coincide with his death 142 years ago, will come in a country that could see several more saints added in the coming years, even though it has been completely secular for more than 105 years and has the lowest percentage of professed Catholics in the region.
While Bishop Vera will be the first Uruguayan saint, St. Maria Francesca Rubatto, canonized in 2022, has strong Uruguayan connections. She was born in Italy and spent little time in Uruguay, but died here in 1904. The miracle attributed to her intercession occurred here. She is the founder of the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto, the order’s name since 1973.
Following Bishop Vera are three others, including Salesian Father Ruben Isidro Alonso, known as Padre Cacho. He was declared a “servant of God” in 2017. The causes of two laypeople are in the investigation process.
The potential saints in Uruguay are part of an expanding list in this part of the world since the beginning of Pope Francis’ papacy. The list includes Paraguayan Sister María Felicia de Jesús Sacramentado, known as Sister Chiquitunga, who was beatified in June 2018, and an increasing number of Argentines. Pope Francis has beatified 10 Argentines and canonized one.
The pope is also remaking the Southern Cone hierarchy. Montevideo Archbishop Daniel Sturla was created a cardinal in 2015, only the second cardinal in the country’s history, and in August, Archbishop Adalberto Martínez Flores of Asunción, Paraguay, became that country’s first cardinal.
“Pope Francis has strengthened the hierarchy with new cardinals and enriched the church with new models of holiness” with new saints, said González.