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Elated Argentineans celebrate local pope

14 March 2013, 15:00

Buenos Aires - They cried, they whooped with joy, they gasped with sheer astonishment. The new pope is not only Latin American but one of their own, Argentinian - and such a dark horse candidate he'd still been down to take part here in Easter Sunday mass.

A boisterous standing ovation by some 200 worshippers at Metropolitan Cathedral greeted the news when it emerged from the Vatican that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the new pontiff and had chosen the name Francis.

In no time at all the crowd swelled outside the stately cathedral.

"Even when we saw the white smoke on television, we thought the Brazilian or Italian candidate would win," 33-year-old Mariano Solis said, referring to Sao Paulo Archbishop Odilo Scherer and Milan Archbishop Angelo Scola.

Solis said: "I was headed to the movies with a friend. But when we found out, we headed straight for the cathedral to be with our people."

He joined others in saying the rosary to pray for Francis. People embraced each other and shed tears.

Latin American importance

Bergoglio, elected to lead the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, is a humble rail worker's son who became a Jesuit priest and is seen as true to his working class roots.

His choice is seen as an acknowledgement of the importance of Latin America to the Church, as it is home to 40% of the world's Catholics.

"He is a simple man, and he has a lot of compassion for those who are most in need," said Eduardo Garcia, the auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires.

"He is the first Latin American pope and that is going to be a huge plus for the region," said Gaston Hall, 37, a publicist who described himself as a practising Catholic.

Even the official Church in Argentina was taken by surprise, said spokesperson Federico Wals.

"Bergoglio travelled peacefully" to the Vatican to participate in the conclave to elect a new pope, Wals said inside the cathedral. Bergoglio had a return ticket booked for next week, he added.


The Church was so convinced that its own would not be named that it had already advertised Bergoglio's presence at mass on Easter Sunday, the spokesperson said.

Claudio Bonani, 42, a businessman from Brazil who rushed to the church upon learning the news, predicted that Bergoglio would have a "great papacy."

Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner, who is Catholic but does not have a warm personal relationship with the pontiff, hailed his election as the first pope from Latin America, and wished him great success.

"We wish him, as he takes the reins of the Church, a fruitful pastoral mission, with such tremendous responsibility on his shoulders, seeking justice, equality, brotherhood and peace among mankind," she said in a statement.



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