Gauchito, The Argentine Robin Hood Worshipped As Saint

The Catholic Church is concerned about the growing flock of pilgrims who come to the Pampas to worship the 18th century defender of the poor

MERCEDES - Kneeling in front of Gauchito Gil's icon, Elsa suddenly cuts her long red braid and places it on the altar. "It's for my husband, he's very sick," says the young woman as her eyes tear up. Despite the blistering heat, hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to this makeshift sanctuary, just five miles outside of Mercedes, in northeast Argentina.

Two policemen try to bring some order to the never-ending flow of faithful coming to commemorate the death of their secular saint. Gauchito's popularity has exploded in the country in recent years, and is now worrying the Catholic Church, which is trying to control it.

On January 8, about 400,000 faithful made the trip from across the country, from the northern provinces, from Buenos Aires 435 miles away -- and also from neighboring Paraguay and Brazil. With its long black hair held back by a red band and a cross on its back, the statue of Gauchito that the faithful kiss looks a lot like a pagan Jesus. Various odd offerings lay at its feet: lit cigarettes, cash, opened wine and beer bottles, soccer jerseys, license plates.

A religious Robin Hood

We know very little about this Robin Hood of the Pampas region, both cattle thief and defender of the weak. Born in the 1840s in the Corrientes province, Antonio Gil was a rural worker who joined the war against Paraguay (1864-1870). He is said to have fallen in love with a rich landowner and enlisted in the military to escape her family's wrath.

At the end of the war, he refused to fight again, this time in the Argentinean civil war, and deserted. To survive, he stole cattle, which he then shared with the poorest villagers. He was finally arrested and hung from a tree by his feet. He told the officer who was about to cut his throat, that if he prayed for him, his ill son would get better. The officer did as he was told and the miracle happened.

The legend, first transmitted from generation to generation in rural families, eventually reached the cities. You'll meet Buenos Aires cab drivers as well as favelas thugs who have Gauchito tattooed on their back. Many of them made it all the way to Mercedes, creating an odd mix among the gauchos.

"The boom of this spontaneous faith increased with the 2001 crisis and the throngs of middle class suddenly made poor," says Maria Rosa Lojo, a sociologist at the Conicet, the national research center. "When people lack reference points, they cling to miracles."

The Catholic Church tried to regain its influence during the procession by setting a cross just 500 m from Gauchito Gil's sanctuary. "We just want to supervise popular devotion and create a more appropriate space for prayer," says Mercedes priest Luis Maria Adis as he waited, microphone in hand, for hundreds of horse riding men to change their paths. But only a dozen riders came to listen to his sermon, with just a few others who came by foot, before heading for the intended destination, the sanctuary.

Read the original article in French

Photo credit - (Sergio Serrano)

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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