Argentine Indian to Be Beatified

Buenos Aires, Argentina - The first Argentine Indian to be beatified by the Roman Catholic church will be recognized by a papal envoy at a ceremony Sunday attended by thousands of faithful.

Ceferino Namuncura _ the son of a Mapuche Indian chief who died of turbeculosis in 1905 at age 18 _ has a wide following among the Argentina's poor.

Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree in July beatifying Namuncura. Beatification is sometimes the first step to sainthood.

The secretary of state for the Vatican, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, will lead the ceremony in the southern Argentine community of Chimpay. It will be the first such ceremony held in Argentina under new efforts by the pope to beatify subjects in their homelands rather than Rome.

Church investigators have attributed a miracle to Namuncura based on an Argentine woman's claim that devotion to Namuncura helped her survive uterine cancer in 2000.

The first Indian saint in the Americas, Juan Diego, was canonized by Pope John Paul II in a Mexico City ceremony in 2002.

Some Indians have criticized Namuncura's beatification, noting that his father was a Mapuche Indian leader who resisted Argentine military campaigns blamed for eradicating indigenous peoples.

Jorge Nahuel, a spokesman for one Mapuche group, claimed that Namuncura "was handed over to be converted to Christianity" and called the decision to beatify Namuncura a "real offense against the history of our people."

Namuncura studied at a Catholic school in Buenos Aires run by the Salesian order, began seminary training in Argentina and went to Rome for more studies.