when the Argentine Financial Crisis was at its height
8th August 1997
Unable to feed his family after losing his job as a welder last year, Roberto Fuentes went to church on Wednesday afternoon to petition St. Cayetano, the patron saint of bread and work.
But Mr. Fuentes had to wait in line, a rather long line stretching 15 city blocks, as Argentines flocked to pay homage to St. Cayetano, a priest who used his family fortune to help the poor of Naples and who died on Aug. 7, 1547.
After waiting 18 hours through a freezing winter night, Mr. Fuentes, 32, burst into tears and walked on his knees when he entered St. Cayetano Sanctuary on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
''As it was in your day, St. Cayetano, the Government ignores those in need,'' Mr. Fuentes said, kneeling before a statue of the saint. ''We are hungry, we are cold, we are suffering. All we have is you, dear Saint.''
It was a scene repeated over and over again today as more than a million people passed through the church -- a record turnout, according to police estimates.
On seeing the small statue of St. Cayetano, which cradles a baby Jesus in its arms, many people gasped, crossed themselves or prayed loudly as they held rosaries. Some kissed or placed their hands on the glass encasing the statue. An elderly woman fainted at the foot of the statue but was revived by Red Cross workers, who said she had forgotten to eat during the nine hours she waited.
Church officials said the vast pilgrimage was an extraordinary outpouring of faith and proof that Roman Catholicism was still relevant in Argentina despite the recent growth of Protestantism and sects.
But critics of President Carlos Saul Menem's Government said the large turnout reflected just how desperate Argentines have become after years of record unemployment and declining salaries in a country that was accustomed to lifelong employment.
Church officials said the Government's inflexibility perhaps explained why the number of Argentines who came to honor St. Cayetano was so large this year.
''Argentines are an intelligent people and they know where to go when they need help, especially material things,'' said the Rev. Fernando Maletti, who oversees St. Cayetano Sanctuary. ''They know when it's appropriate to block roads, or to knock on the door of a Government agency, or to go to church and ask God or the saints for what they need.''
O Glorious St Cajetan, Father of Divine Providence, help all those who are unemployed, who search for employment and who fear for their jobs, lead them towards what they are looking for and pray for us all that we may be courageous in the face of adversity.