Pope, man cured thanks to Mama Antula are linked by omelets and beer

A painting of Blessed María Antonia de Paz Figueroa, known as “Mama Antula,” was displayed during a meeting between Pope Francis and Argentine pilgrims at the Vatican Feb. 9, 2024, ahead of the canonization of Argentina’s first female saint. (CNS Photo by Vatican Media)

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY — One day, Jesuit Father Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, wanted to make sure a group of visitors did not go home hungry, so he whipped up a huge omelet loaded with onions and potatoes.

One of those guests, Claudio Perusini, who still remembers that meal fondly, was in Rome for the canonization of Argentina’s first female saint Feb. 11. It was his inexplicable recovery from a devastating stroke in 2017 that became the second miracle needed for the canonization of Blessed María Antonia de Paz Figueroa, known as Mama Antula.

Perusini met the pope when he was 17 on a trip with five others for an ordination.

After the ordination, then-Father Bergoglio, who was provincial superior of the Jesuits, invited the group “to the residence of the Catholic university, where he cooked us an enormous omelet with 30 eggs,” onions and potatoes, he told the Punto Medio program on Radio2 in Argentina.

“He divided it into six and served each of us, and since then I have been friends with him,” he told the radio in late October after the Vatican announced Pope Francis had approved the miracle attributed to the intercession of Mama Antula.

The last time Perusini saw the pope was in 2014 when he and his wife, María Laura Baranda, had an audience at the Vatican.

“I brought him ‘dulce de leche,’ ‘alfajores’ (cookies) from Santa Fe, drawings from my children and craft beer that I make,” he told the radio.

The pope gave away the food, but not the beer, he said.

Perusini has told multiple outlets that his first meeting with the Jesuit provincial made a deep impression on him and, from that, he decided to join the Society of Jesus.

When he began the novitiate, he was put in charge of cooking and then-Father Bergoglio helped him prepare the food every Saturday and Sunday. When Perusini started his university studies in the 1980s, the future pope became his confessor and spiritual director.

However, the two of them would have heated arguments, including exchanging insults, Perusini has said, because he wanted to be a priest and then-Father Bergoglio told him it wasn’t the right vocation for him. The future pope explained he wanted Perusini to be happy and that he would not be happy there; he promised he would baptize his children.

He continued to be close to the Jesuits, especially as his friend from high school, Ernesto Giobando, became a Jesuit priest, then auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires and now apostolic administrator of Mar del Plata.

When Perusini was struck by a severe stroke when visiting Santa Fe in 2017, it was Bishop Giobando who told the family to pray to Mama Antula for a miracle.

The 18th-century laywoman was closely tied to the Jesuits and continued to lead Ignatian spiritual exercises in Argentina after the expulsion of the order.

Perusini’s condition was dire: the stroke had caused hemorrhagic infarction or damage in several areas of the brain, a deep coma and resistant septic shock with multiple organ failure. Doctors did not think he would survive, and if he did, he would remain in a vegetative state or have little chance of ever living a normal life due to irreparable injuries to the brain.

During the ordeal, his mother, Marilú, received a phone call, which she did not want to answer, thinking it was bad news from the hospital. Then someone told her. “It’s not the hospital, it’s Pope Francis,” and they talked for half an hour, La Nación, the Argentine newspaper, reported in October. She, too, had met the future pope while her son was a novice.

Bishop Giobando prayed at his friend’s bedside for hours and left an image of the blessed with the family, which Perusini’s wife put on a monitor near her husband’s bed. He eventually awoke from the coma and regained basic functions and abilities. His recovery was long but successful with physiotherapy and rehabilitation.

Perusini told La Nación in November that Pope Francis had called him a few months previously “to verify in person how I had recovered. I told him: ‘Don’t make me go to Rome. Why don’t you come to canonize Mama Antula in Argentina?’ “

Instead, Perusini and his wife did come to Rome for the canonization of Mama Antula Feb. 11, meeting first with Pope Francis during an audience for pilgrims from Argentina at the Vatican Feb. 9.

Baranda told the Rosario region’s news outlet, Rosario3, they hope the canonization of Argentina’s first female saint by an Argentine pope and with the attendance of President Javier Milei will send a message to all Argentines to see beyond their differences and “unite for the country,” working together to make it better.

Catholic News Service
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