The religious activity also takes please in the Buenos Aires streets. Priests speak to pilgrims and offer blessings on Aug. 7, 2017. RNS photo by Fernando Poggi

Saint day draws massive rally over poverty in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (RNS) — Every year, Argentines march through the streets of the capital on San Cayetano Day, carrying stalks of wheat to symbolize food and work.

The festival, which was observed Monday (Aug. 7), is named after the Italian-born St. Cajetan of Thienna, who died on the same date in 1547. A religious reformer in his time, Cajetan, or Cayetano in Spanish, is seen in Argentina as the patron saint of work and sustenance.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched during this year’s procession, many protesting the country’s endemic poverty, and demanded President Mauricio Macri declare a food emergency and increase government assistance for the poor.

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Although recent economic indicators released by the government suggest Argentina is emerging from a major recession, the recovery is slow and labor unions are still critical of the government. One in 8 children reportedly suffer from food insecurity.

Pilgrims waited in long lines to enter the Sanctuary of San Cayetano on the outskirts of the capital and spend a few moments in the chapel dedicated to the Venetian saint and attend Mass. Some spent the night outside the church to get to the front of the queue.

But even for those who don’t get in, pilgrims can receive blessings from priests who circulate in the streets offering their spiritual services.

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In recent years, unions and other social movements figured prominently in the procession. They carried signs that said, "Bread, Peace, Land, Housing and Work." It’s a marriage of the theme of the march and a reference to a message Pope Francis recently sent to a meeting of popular movements in California, about “the three T’s in Spanish: Tierra, Trabajo y Techo.” (Land, Work and Housing)

"We are here because the most of the working people are believers,” said Federico Ugo, a member of the Evita Movement, a Peronist movement named after former first lady and cultural icon Eva Perón.

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