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Pope marks 50th anniversary of murder of Argentine ‘Martyr of the Poor’ Carlos Múgica

Pope Francis commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Argentine priest Carlos Múgica upholding his legacy of serving the poor and marginalized.

By Francesca Merlo

On 11 May 1974, Argentine priest Carlos Múgica, known as the “Martyr of the Poor” was shot and killed after evening mass at the San Francisco Solano parish in the Villa Luro district of Buenos Aires.

He is remembered, in particular, for his dedication to the poor. Amongst those celebrating his life on the 50th anniversary of his death, is Pope Francis, who sent a letter to mark the occasion. 

Pope Francis’ words

Through his words, read out by the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva, Pope Francis greeted all those who gathered to commemorate this anniversary during Mass at the conclusion of the “Múgica Week” on 12 May in Buenos Aires.

“As in every Church celebration – which is much more than a historical commemoration – there is an opportunity to renew the fraternal and committed presence among those who bear heavy crosses,” said Pope Francis, encouraging everyone to “continue to put their hearts and bodies alongside those who suffer all kinds of poverty.”

Pope Francis emphasised that Father Carlos’ testimony “teaches us not to be dragged by ideological colonisation, nor by the culture of indifference.”

“Let us ask the Lord that the principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church bear fruit in our communities and, through them, in all social life,” he added.

The Holy Father also invited the faithful to “seek places of integration, discarding the disqualification of the other” and he called for “the rift to end, not with silence and complicity, but by looking into each other’s eyes, acknowledging errors and eradicating exclusion.”

Who was Múgica?

Múgica belonged to the pioneering team of Priests for the Slums of Buenos Aires and was also associated with the Movement of Priests for the Third World.

Born on 7th October 1930 in the Recoleta neighbourhood, he became the first priest in the shantytown, known then simply by the designation “31” during the military dictatorship. Years later, the government of Buenos Aires officially honoured him by naming the settlement after him.

Múgica’s actions mirrored the political activism of left-wing Peronist movements after the 1955 coup that ousted President Juan Domingo Perón’s government, forcing him into exile.

Fr. Múgica’s death stemmed from tensions within the Peronist movements. Despite rejecting political violence, he was fatally shot outside the church on 11 May, fifty years ago. His funeral drew 20 thousand people, underscoring his significance to political movements and the local community.

Múgica and Pope Francis

It was 25 years after his martyrdom that the then cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, participated in the Mass for Múgica at the San Francisco Solano parish and endorsed the transfer of the priest’s remains to the Cristo Obrero parish he had founded in Villa Retiro.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio had limited acquaintance with Múgica, having met him a few times during theology courses at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires. However, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires on 9 April 1999, Bergoglio presided over the ceremony for the translation of Múgica’s relics in the chapel of Villa Retiro, where Múgica had served much of his priesthood. On that occasion, Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, prayed for Múgica, condemning his physical assailants, those who plotted his death, and society’s complicity through silence. He also acknowledged the Church’s failure to denounce Múgica’s assassination due to a lack of courage.

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