March 13, 2013

Catholics overjoyed at 1st Latin American pope

The atmosphere across Latin America was jubilant, with people bursting into tears and cheers on streets from Buenos Aires to Caracas, Venezuela.

The Associated Press

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Paola La Rocca celebrates after hearing on the speakers at the Metropolitan Cathedral that Buenos Aires' Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio was chosen as Pope in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Bergoglio is the first pope ever from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

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Crowds cheer after white smoke billowed from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel indicating that a new pope has been elected in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

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"Being Latin American gives him an advantage. He understands the problems of poverty, of violence, of manipulation of the masses," Alvarez said. "All that gives him experience for the job. ... He's one of the family."

Even Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, a sometimes antagonist who once compared Bergoglio's stands on abortion and gay rights to "medieval times and the Inquisition," offered congratulations.

"It's our desire that you have ... a fruitful pastoral work, developing such great responsibilities in terms of justice, equality, fraternity and peace for humankind," she wrote in an open letter.

Latin America has some of the world's sharpest divides between rich and poor, and Marvin Cruz, a Catholic at the Parish of the Miraculous in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, said the pope's "main challenge will be the fight against economic inequality."

"His training as a Jesuit will allow him to take it head on," Cruz said.

He also noted the erosion of church membership in the face of Protestant denominations and secularism. "I hope he calls those who have left and those without faith to the bosom of the church," he said.

Monsignor Jose Cummings at the Cathedral of San Juan noted that the new pope "has presented himself as a simple and humble man," and specifically mentioned the word charity in his first remarks.

"He's going to pay particular attention to the people and the people are the church," Cummings said.

The church secretary at St. Vincent parish in Santiago, Chile, said she had high hopes for Francis' papacy.

"What I have heard is that he is a simple and good man," Elizabeth Jimenez said. "It is good for Latin America because he knows our reality."

The bishop at the head of Venezuela's church, the Rev. Diego Padron, remarked, "All of Latin America is dropping to its knees to pray, to thank God for this extraordinary gift that he has given us."

"I am convinced this pope will make extraordinary changes, beginning with his gestures today," Padron said, referring to Francis' bowing to the crowd at St. Peter's Square, "asking for a prayer, showing great humility and at the same time displaying a great change."

For some of the poor, the choice has already brought benefits. Juan Carlos Alarcon, a 58-year-old street vendor, came to the Buenos Aires cathedral with a load of Argentine flags to sell.

"I have to take advantage of this historic moment to feed my family," he said.

But there was a tinge of regret for some who had been hoping for a Brazilian pope.

Bruno Scherer, the brother of Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer, sat by himself in a square behind the main Catholic church in the Scherer family's hometown of Toledo in southern Brazil.

"I think Odilo must be happy. He must have the feeling that he was left off the hook," Bruno Scherer told The Associated Press.

"I think that because of his age — he's still quite young — he wouldn't want to lose his liberty. He wants to keep traveling, taking photos, and doing his thing. ... Well, let's at least think that."

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In this Aug. 7, 2009 file photo, Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio gives a Mass outside the San Cayetano church where an Argentine flag hangs behind in Buenos Aires, Argentina. On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Bergoglio was elected pope, the first ever from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. He chose the name Pope Francis. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

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Visitors take photos of Pope Francis as he speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

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Worshipers pack the Metropolitan Cathedral during the evening Mass in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Latin Americans reacted with joy on Wednesday at news that the Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected pope. Bergoglio, who chose the name Pope Francis, is the first pope ever from the Americas. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)



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