Tue, Nov 13, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Argentines flock to witness beatification of Namuncura

AFP AND AP , CHIMPAY, ARGENTINA

Tens of thousands of faithful turned out on Sunday to witness a ceremony honoring Ceferino Namuncura, the first indigenous South American to be beatified by the Roman Catholic Church.

"Ceferino is blessed," proclaimed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, deputy of Pope Benedict XVI, drawing a thundering ovation from the crowd of onlookers that swelled to 120,000 people for the event, police said.

"Let us learn from Ceferino to be good children of God and brothers to all," Bertone told the crowd spread out on a grassy field.

"Viva Ceferino!" church leaders shouted, raising a cheer among the crowd.

More than a century after his death in Rome, Namuncura -- the son of a Mapuche Indian chief who fought the European settlers in the late 19th century -- became the first person to be beatified outside the Vatican, organizers said.

The ceremony took place in this southern Patagonia town 1,000km south of Buenos Aires.

"The Gospel never destroys the values in a culture, but assimilates them and perfects them," said Bertone, adding that Namuncura "never forgot what it was to be native and tried to be useful to his people."

Often the first step toward sainthood, beatification is a long process, which in Namuncura's case began in 1944 and culminated in a "miracle" in 2000, when a young Argentine girl was allegedly cured of uterine cancer after praying to him.

Pope Benedict XVI officially certified Namuncura's miracle in July, opening the path to beatification. The miracle girl, Valeria, her husband and three children were among those who gathered for the beatification ceremony on Sunday.

Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, celebrated the beatification mass, which was also attended by Buenos Aires Archbishop Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, some 50 bishops from Argentina and Latin America, and by Namuncura's descendants.

Born on August 26, 1886, Cefe-rino Namuncura was the son of legendary Mapuche chief Manuel Namuncura who, after years of fighting the military and white encroachment, surrendered on the advice of a Salesian monk who baptized his son when he was eight.

Ceferino studied at a religious school in Buenos Aires, "so he could be of service to his race" according to historians, and as a priest became renowned for his unswerving faith.

He was presented to then Pope Pius X in Rome in 1904 but succumbed to tuberculosis a year later. His remains were taken back to Argentina in 1924 and laid to rest in Buenos Aires.

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