“Put the body into the Gospel”

Hugo Vera, salesiano brother (Argentina)
Conference held during the International Congress of Mary Help of Christians 2019 (Buenos Aires)


With my work, I would like to propose a contemplative and prayerful exercise in the figure of our brother Artémides through an icon which reveals his traits of embodied holiness. 

I think that for many reasons in Christian spirituality the body has been undervalued. It is not difficult to find in history, spiritual journeys that promoted submission and even neglect of the body with which we exist. However, and this wants to be a first call to be a committed search of a young Salesian spirituality in these present times, the central mystery in which our faith in Jesus and his Kingdom lies, reminds us that “The word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1, 14), “born of a woman” (Galatians 4,4). 

Hence, I consider that it is not possible to think of or propose the contemplation of a spirituality that does not “place the body” so that God can work in us. It cannot be accepted either, a spiritual life which does not imitate Jesus ¨who embodies¨ words, attitudes and actions which imply to follow the path of His Gospel. 

This is the case, which I believe to discover in the life of our dearest Salesian brother, the Blessed, Artémides Zatti, the holy nurse of Patagonia, friend of all the poor. 

I would like to invite you to enter the mystery of his holiness, strongly incarnated, learnt from the joy of the Good news revealed in the suffering flesh of so many people, especially the children, young and poor who found relief in his “body laid down” to a thoughtful, committed and even reckless service for the health of the latter. 

Let us then, lean out of the window of this icon from Zatti, our brother. 

In the centre of the icon, we can see the Blessed Artémis Zatti depicted in this evangelical attitude of the “Good Samaritan” in favour of the sick and poor from Patagonia.  Zatti leans over a “griever” like descending to pain, providing comfort and relief. Some of the characteristics of what his body shape conveys:

Posture: with one knee on the floor and the other one like backing up the sick person, it shows a double action that reminds us of the Good shepherd lifting and supporting. All his body is inclined; which shows an attitude of being solicitous, devoted while being at the same time respectful with the defenseless. The other knee is in an attitude of reverence, of worship, that meaning also a helpful gesture from Jesus our Lord who enjoys the dignity of being a servant.


Face: his facial expression looks calm, gentle, with the joy of the Gospel reflected in the typical pleasant smile Zatti has. His eyes look at the sick person but at the same time set in other realities, they contemplate Christ´s mystery in the sick not just his humanity. They tear the veil (Ecstasy of action-, typical of the Salesian spirituality).


Hands: They accompany the gesture of the legs. The left hand with clear feminine traits carries a rosary and displays the Marian dimension of the blessed ´s action. It is not him who helps. It is the helper, the Virgin of Don Bosco. He had understood this clearly when he had promised Mother Mary that if he was cured of the tuberculosis he had contracted, he would devote his life to helping the sick at St Joseph Hospital, as suggested by Father Garrone. That´s why this is the hand that lifts the legs of the sick. The other hand, the right one, is resting on the young‘s head in a fatherly attitude of comfort, giving strength and covering all the skull. The masculine traits show both: affection and vigor.


Colors: Zatti´s trousers and tie are blue, symbol of mankind in icons. The “light blue” shirt wants to show his spiritual journey, which also experiences the human aspect (blue) though lightened by the Presence of the Gospel in his heart (neck and chest). Artemides is “clothed in Christ”, his white coat is no longer now a sanitary attire but a memory of the white clothing worn at Baptism, vital expression of this religious profession. Therefore, it is white, symbol of Divinity. Also, the bandage Zatti has put in the sick person´s hand is white. He offers him health and Christ´s Salvation as well.


Halo: Zatti carries the halo of the glorified. It is gold but the reason of his blessedness is registered there: His relationship with all the poor, the favorites of the Lord. This is his crown and his glory: Love for Jesus shown in service for the most needy.

Regarding the image of the sick person, we can appreciate.


Features: we can clearly see, he is a young Mapuche, in which we are shown Zatti´s love for the Patagonia, his preference for the young who have been abandoned, typical of the Salesian Charism, continuation of the missionary action dreamed by Don Bosco.


Stigmas: The sick person has the stigmas. He is Christ himself, to remind us that the Blessed contemplated and proclaimed that Jesus was to be found in the poorest and most needy. We only need to remember his famous words to a Mary help of Christian´s daughter: “My sister, try and see if we have anything with which to clothe a ten-year old child Jesus”.


Color: the sick person´s clothes reveal the mystery of Passion. Hence, the red tonalities. The Passion of Jesus extends into his suffering limbs and Zatti is well aware of this.


As for the general composition of elements in the icon we may add:

The image of Don Zatti with the sick person takes up the vertical axis of the composition, in a horizontal complement to describe a kind of cross, we see: on the right, the facade of the old hospital “San José de Viedma” which to his great disappointment, had to be demolished causing him so much pain. Also, the bicycle, vehicle he used in his labor to visit the sick and poor. We can see on the left side the name of the Blessed making up the other arm of the cross,.

Don Zatti and the sick Mapuche are on a green floor, symbol of the Fruitfulness in the ministry carried out by the Saint Nurse of the Patagonia.


May all those who contemplate this icon see beyond, with the eyes of faith, how God works in the lives of those who let him shape them with the chisel of Gospel, and be attracted to imitate Brother Artemides by asking his loving intercession before the Lord of life.

The holiness, beatitude, and spiritual brilliance of our brother the Saint nurse, lies in being a real mediation for the Body of Christ given up on the Cross, to be revealed in his corporal, Samaritan medical presence, offering his healing assistance to so many suffering and broken bodies in which he saw as he used to repeat: “Jesus”, to whom we always “Must give the best”.