Vatican beatifies son of Argentine Indian chief

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CHIMPAY, Argentina, Nov 11 (Reuters) The teenage son of a Mapuche Indian chief came a step closer to becoming Argentina's first indigenous saint today when he was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in his remote Patagonian homeland.

Local media said about 100,000 people flocked to the small town of Chimpay for the ceremony to beatify Ceferino Namuncura, who died of tuberculosis more than a century ago when he was 18 and studying to become a priest.

The Vatican's number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, traveled to Namuncura's home town, some 850 km southwest of Buenos Aires, for the televised ceremony, parts of which were conducted in indigenous languages.

Namuncura has been well known among Argentine Catholics for years but Pope Benedict announced his beatification in July after the Vatican ruled he was responsible for the miraculous healing of a woman who had cancer.

Bertone, who is secretary of state and ranks second to the Pope in the Vatican hierarchy, said Namuncura ''was a role model for many, many young people.'' ''Ceferino never forgot he was a Mapuche. Really, his ideal was to serve his people,'' Bertone said on a windy field packed with followers, many dressed in traditional Indian ponchos and waving flags.

For the Church to beatify people, the Vatican must credit them with a miracle. After that, they need another miracle before sainthood is bestowed.

Reuters SBC VP0008

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