Quantcast
Latest Stories

Argentines celebrate Francis as their ‘slum pope’

By

Pope Francis celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals, inside the Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican, Thursday, March 14, 2013. Just hours after his dramatic election as leader of the Catholic world, an Italian journalist in Rome said the first thing Pope Francis did was to call her up for a friendly chat. AP PHOTO/L’OSSERVATORE ROMANO

BUENOS AIRES — For more than a billion Roman Catholics worldwide, he’s Pope Francis. For Argentina’s poorest citizens, crowded in “misery villages” throughout the capital, he’s proudly known as one of their own, a true “slum pope.”

Villa 21-24 is a slum so dangerous that most outsiders don’t dare enter, but residents say Jorge Mario Bergoglio often showed up unannounced to share laughs and sips of mate, the traditional Argentine herbal tea shared by groups using a common straw.

People here recall how the Buenos Aires archbishop would arrive on a bus and walk through the mud to reach their little chapel; how he sponsored marathons and carpentry classes, consoled single mothers and washed the feet of recovering drug addicts; how he became one of them.

“Four years ago, I was at my worst and I needed help. When the Mass started he knelt down and washed my feet. It hit me hard. It was such a beautiful experience,” said Cristian Marcelo Reynoso, 27, a garbage collector trying to kick a cocaine addiction through the church’s rehab program.

“When I saw the news on the TV, I began screaming with joy, and look, I’m still trembling,” Reynoso said. “El Chaval (The Dude) is so humble. He’s a fan of San Lorenzo (the soccer club), like me. You talk to him like a friend.”

Long after he became a cardinal in 2001, this “prince of the church” wore a simple black T-shirt with a white collar. For many at the slum’s Caacupe Virgin of the Miracles Church, it’s nothing short of a miracle that their friend is the pope.

“He was always part of our slum,” housewife Lidia Valdivieso, 41, said after praying while resting her palm on a statue of St. Expeditus, patron saint of urgent and impossible causes. Her 23-year-old son has cerebral palsy and is learning carpentry at the church’s technical school.

“When I heard the news I couldn’t believe it. Having a ‘papa villero’ (slum pope) is the most beautiful thing that can happen to us. I still remember him going on long walks through our muddy streets or talking to our children,” Valdivieso said.

Inside the concrete block chapel, there’s a painted message commemorating Bergoglio’s inauguration, and another big painting of Pope John Paul II, but no sign of Benedict XVI whatsoever. Near the altar, there’s a large black-and-white poster of Carlos Mugica, an iconic Argentine slum priest who was killed in 1974 by a right-wing death squad intent on eliminating the “liberation theology” he preached.

Bergoglio never favored liberation theology because of its alliances with armed leftist guerrilla movements in the 1970s. But he has done much to follow in Mugica’s footsteps, sponsoring all sorts of outreach programs in Argentina’s slums.

This can be messy work, obliging priests to challenge drug dealers for the slum-dwellers’ allegiances, and putting their beliefs, even their lives, at risk. Sometimes compromises must be made.

Just a few steps from the chapel, melted candles stand in a red shrine to the pagan folk hero Antonio “Gauchito” Gil, a 19th century outlaw revered among Argentina’s poor for sharing his stolen bounty with the poor.

Many Argentines are as likely to pray for miracles from “Gauchito” as they are from authorized Catholic saints, but Bergoglio didn’t object to the shrine’s presence next to his chapel.

“For more than 20 years he came here. He’s always been close to us and his impact on this slum is huge,” said the parish priest, Lorenzo “Toto” de Vedia.

TV cameras followed Bergoglio once as he washed the feet of 12 young men at a rehab center. “Then he kept coming back, taking confession and counseling them,” Vedia said. On the priest’s desk lay a newspaper with a huge, one-word headline: “FRANCISCO.”

“You can tell that the church is going to change,” Vedia said. “The fact that he chose the name Francisco says it all. It says: *Let’s stop messing around and devote ourselves to the poor. That was St. Francis* message and now ‘Francisco’ can live it.”

In his first appearance at St. Peter’s Square, the first Latin American pope bowed to the crowds and asked for their blessing. Back in Argentina, his friends in the slums recognized the gesture as the same sort of humility that won their hearts.

In the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi made it his mission to respond to the poor and show that through simplicity and love, a stronger foundation for the church could be built.

Pope Francis’ “mission is now to go on a pilgrimage to all lands, to walk with the people, to lead a church that walks,” said Mercedes Trovato, 24, a youth volunteer who wore a wooden cross around her neck.

Bergoglio’s friends say he’s fundamentally shy. He hardly ever grants media interviews, preferring to speak from the pulpit. But he did agree to chat recently with Jaidr Flores, a 22-year-old host on the parish’s Radio FM La 96.

“He was hesitant at first. But I convinced him, and at the end of the interview, he started laughing and said: “You did it! You got me on air!’” said Flores. “One day I went to visit him at his office and I was amazed to see how many pictures of the volunteers and recovered drug addicts from this community he had on his desk. He truly cares for us.”


Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Argentina , News , Pope , Pope Francis , slum pope




Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  2. Gigi Reyes’ only option: tell all
  3. Unease in Vatican over cardinal’s luxury flat—report
  4. Santiago sees Palace hand in Gigi’s return
  5. Malaysia Airlines jet turns back after tire burst
  6. Gigi Reyes back to face charges
  7. Aquino vows to intensify anti-corruption drive further
  8. In the know: Gigi Reyes
  9. Healing priest invites political leaders to join ‘prayer for nation’
  10. ‘Malang’ next crocodile attraction after ‘Lolong’
  1. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  2. Suspect in Vhong Navarro mauling tries to leave PH
  3. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  4. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  5. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  6. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  7. ‘Mom, I love you,’ says text from student on sinking ferry
  8. Massive infra spending set
  9. Fr. Suarez says last Mass on Easter before returning donated land to San Miguel
  10. I’ll follow my conscience on Estrada, says JV Ejercito
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  8. Police rule out foul play in Helena Belmonte’s death as boyfriend is ‘traumatized’
  9. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  10. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia
Advertisement

News

  • Cagayan mayor shot during flag-raising ceremony
  • Malaysia, Flight 370 relatives talk financial help
  • Celebrating Easter and creativity in New York
  • Man wins half marathon, dies in Argentina
  • Clouds to bring slight relief from summer heat
  • Sports

  • Reigning champs Miami open playoffs with win
  • Spurs subdue Mavericks in playoff opener
  • Wawrinka beats Federer to win Monte Carlo Masters
  • Ageless Hopkins pitches 50-50 Mayweather deal
  • Goodbye MGM, Las Vegas for Pacquiao?
  • Lifestyle

  • Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  • Transitions and resurrection in the performing arts
  • ‘Archaeology tour’ of Cebu’s heritage of faith
  • Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  • ‘Imports’ from London, and play of the year
  • Entertainment

  • ‘Captain America’ stays strong atop US box office
  • Easter musings
  • Solenn in shorts
  • Unmerry mix of attention-calling moves on ‘Mini-Me’ TV tilts
  • Persistence pays off for The 1975
  • Business

  • BDO seen keen on bidding for Cocobank
  • Bataan freeport investment pledges up 1,302%
  • Golden Week
  • Bourse to woo Cebu stock mart investors
  • Supper power
  • Technology

  • Nintendo’s trailblazing Game Boy marks 25th anniversary
  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Opinion

  • Gigi’s home
  • Palace stonewalls on MRT inquiry
  • Couple of things too
  • There is plenty of water behind Wawa Dam
  • Triduum thoughts of a young boy
  • Global Nation

  • Obama on mission to quiet Asia skeptics
  • Search for Etihad passengers launched
  • Japan presents $57-B ‘dream plan’ to solve Metro congestion
  • Tim Tebow’s charity hospital in Davao seen to open in 7 months
  • OFW died of Mers-CoV in Saudi Arabia, says family
  • Marketplace
    Advertisement