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Argentines cheer Pope Francis at mass

18 March 2013, 10:05

Buenos Aires - The faithful flocked to the parishes of Buenos Aires to celebrate their first Sunday Mass with Pope Francis as leader of the Church, proud that the new pontiff hails from Argentina.

"Our entire family came today because this is a special Mass," said Ana Maria Quiros, born in Buenos Aires to a Bolivian family.

Her parish, Our Lady of the Rosary of New Pompeii, is located in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the capital, where many Bolivian, Paraguayan and Peruvian workers have settled in recent decades.

At tent stands outside the church, devotees bought prints of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy, known as a servant to the poor after whom the former cardinal Jorge Bergoglio took his name.

"To St Francis, I ask for health for my family and I, and that I live to be 74," said Luis Duarte, a retiree who lives nearby, after paying 35 cents for an image of the saint.

The parish celebrated the Argentine's election to pope during six different services and welcomed more faithful than usual, as the appointment of Pope Francis was cheered jubilantly across this nation of 40 million, where 75% of the population is Catholic.

Politics vs religion

"I hope that Pope Francis can accomplish many things during his papacy, because the Church has to change," said Ramona Baez, a 23-year-old Paraguayan mother of two.

At the other end of the city, there was not a single mention of poverty - a central theme for Pope Francis, who has called for a "poor Church" closer to ordinary people - during a service at Our Lady of Pilar Basilica in the exclusive Recoleta neighbourhood.

Instead, the sermon by priest Francisco Morad spoke of sins and sinners, reconciliation and dialogue.

"It's a blessing, Bergoglio is a saint and now the government [of Cristina Kirchner] should bow its head," said Alicia Sforzi, aged 58, referring to the uneasy relationship between Kirchner and the new pope over her attempts to legalise gay marriage.

"This should help the entire political class become more humble."

Despite their cool relationship, the pope is set to meet with Kirchner on Monday in his first visit with a president.

Emphasis on charity

Ernesto Tatiano, a 64-year-old computer engineer, dismissed as "dirty tricks" claims that Bergoglio had failed to prevent the arrests of two Jesuits during Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

"This is an absurd fight to have as most Argentines are focused on celebrating the fact that the pope is an Argentine," he said.

But Pope Francis's emphasis on charity has fallen on some deaf ears, and a beggar at the entrance of the church stretched her hand out without much luck.

"There are good people to help me, but not always," said Sandra Gutierrez, aged 31, showing her empty hand. Her other hand held on to Felipe, her 1-year-old son.

At the Metropolitan Cathedral, which overlooks the historic Plaza de Mayo, there was an explosion of Pope Francis memorabilia in the form of large photographs and pins, along with flags of Argentina and the Vatican.

"I feel very proud to have a pope from the Americas," said Venezuelan engineer Neida Marquez, aged 26, as he toured the Argentine capital with her husband and baby.

During Mass, presided by Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, the cathedral's pews filled and dozens of people followed the ceremony on a giant screen mounted on a corner of the Plaza de Mayo.

Cheers, prolonged applause and a standing ovation followed a reference to the pope's appointment.



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