In a country both incredibly religious and overwhelmingly poverty-stricken, it makes sense that Argentina's Catholics would turn to relatable symbols of hope.
"Common people are very expressive and search for the palpable," Rev. Toto De Vedia, a priest who leads a parish in Buenos Aires, told The Associated Press. "This is the case with a saint whose way of living is very close to theirs."
A woman leans on a statue of popular folk saint Gauchito Gil at a sanctuary built in his honor in Alejandro Korn. | (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Enter: "folk saints."
Unrecognized by the Roman Catholic Church, these heroes to the common faithful include San La Muerte (the saint of death), Gauchito Gil (a Robin Hood-esque outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor), and La Difunta Correa (who, legend says, gauchos found dead in the desert but whose baby remained alive, suckling on her miraculously still-full breast).
Millions of people visit a sanctuary that honors La Difunta Correa each year; there, they make offerings to her in the hope that she will return to them good health or fortune.
A woman touches a statue of La Difunta Correa, at the Vallecito-site where legend has it she died. | (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
A woman visits Cordoba's roadside sanctuary for La Difunta Correa. People erect sanctuaries along the nation's roads, leaving bottles of water to quench the folk saint's eternal thirst. | (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
In a dusty slum of Buenos Aires called La Carcova sits a tiny structure made of garbage that was built by Carlos Marquez, who spent 15 years in prison for armed robbery. Marquez lives in the slum and maintains the sanctuary, which he dedicates to his favorite folk saints, San La Muerte and Gauchito Gil.
"He is the saint of the poor," Marquez says of Gauchito Gil, the young mustachioed saint who is depicted with long, wavy black hair and a red bandana tied around his head and shoulders. Legend has it, before the thief's throat was slit by police on Jan. 8, 1878, Gauchito Gil pledged to become a miracle worker. Now, hundreds of thousands of devotees come each year exchanging offerings for miracles.
But Gauchito Gil's story is downright ancient compared to Gilda's. Born Miriam Alejandra Bianchi in 1961, Gilda was a popular Argentinean singer who died in a bus crash in 1996 along with her family and band members. Soon after her death, her fans started attributing miracles to her and calling her a saint. Each year on her birthday, October 11, people gather outside her tomb, bringing gifts and flowers.
Below, images of Argentina's faithful finding guidance through less-than-saintly saints.
A follower of Argentina's late singer Gilda places burning candles at her sanctuary in Entre Rios. Although the Catholic church doesn't recognize Gilda as a saint, many Argentine Catholics pray to the popular Cumbia singer who died in a 1996 bus crash. | (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
A woman sits inside a home decorated with images of Gauchito Gil, left, and San La Muerte, right, in La Carcova slum, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. | (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Figures of Gauchito Gil, left, Pope Francis, center, and San La Muerte, right, among other religious figures, are for sale in a slum in Buenos Aires, Argentina. | (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
A follower of Gauchito Gil reaches to touch a cross at a sanctuary in his honor in Alejandro Korn. | (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Souvenirs showing La Difunta Correa with Jesus Christ and Pope Francis are for sale at the saint's sanctuary in Vallecito. | (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Followers of popular folk saint Gauchito Gil, some dressed like him, gather at a sanctuary built in his honor in Alejandro Korn. This sanctuary was built by Ruben Alfaro, who believes Gil cured him of colon cancer. To give thanks, he built this sanctuary where pilgrims come every eighth of the month to pay Gil tribute. | (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)