BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentines lined up on a bitterly cold winter morning Monday in an annual pilgrimage to a Roman Catholic shrine for the patron saint of work, asking for jobs and prosperity as many struggle with one of the world’s highest inflation rates.
Voters in the South American country are set to go to the polls Sunday in national primary elections that will determine party candidates for the October presidential race. But many of those in line at the shrine to St. Cayetano had little optimism things would change regardless of who comes out on top.
Rubén Gómez said he hasn’t been able to find steady work since he lost his job at a slaughterhouse two years ago.
“I was fine until the pandemic,” he said, adding that he now must do odd jobs to survive.
With elections looming, Gómez complained that “whoever gets in, things will be worse.” As far as he is concerned, “they’re all the same.”
Economy Minister Sergio Massa will be the presidential candidate of the left-of-center governing coalition. Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and former security minister Patricia Bullrich are facing off to represent the main opposition coalition. But a populist right-wing candidate, Javier Milei, has gained traction this year amid general discontent over Argentina’s economic straits.
Héctor Blas García also was in line to ask St. Cayetano for a job.
“I was left without work three years ago and I need to work,” said Blas García, who was laid off from an auto parts factory during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Things are very difficult right now in terms of employment with everything that is going on in this country.”
A line of faithful stretched for several blocks waiting their turn to enter the Church of San Cayetano in Argentina’s capital to attend Mass and give thanks to the patron saint of wheat, prosperity and labor.
The feast day of St. Cayetano, an Italian priest who died in the 16th century, resonates in Argentina, which has suffered years of economic malaise, including an annual inflation rate that is now above 100%, relentlessly pushing prices ever higher and higher.
Daniel Villalba, a father of six who stood in line holding two small statues of St. Cayetano, said the soaring cost of food means his family often has to skip dinner.
“It’s really difficult,” he said. “Sometimes there just isn’t enough (to eat) at night.”
At a Mass celebrated outside the church, Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge García Cuerva made a scathing reference to rising prices and how difficult it is to make ends meet even for those who have jobs.
“What you put in your pocket, the damn inflation eats it up,” the archbishop said.
Many of those who were in line said that they were there to fulfill a promise they made to St. Cayetano.
“I’m here to give thanks because three years ago I came, I started to believe, and I got a job. To this day I continue to be grateful,” said Hernán Newell, an electrician.
Newell also expressed disgust with the country’s politicians.
“What they’re leaving behind is a disaster … terrible poverty,” he said. “I don’t want to go vote for anyone. It’s a shame what we’re experiencing.”