Cardinals in Rome made an unexpected choice by selecting ArgentineJorge Mario as the next leader of the Catholic Church. The decision came as a surprise, but was the right choice, according to many in Latin America.
The sun was just setting on a late summers' afternoon in the Argentine capital when the news broke: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, former archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected pope. The man no one expected and no one had counted on. Bars and cafes filled, and shouting and a happy chaos filled the streets as people laughed and celebrated while pointing at the screens that showed live broadcasts from Rome and the news on their mobile phones.
A maintenance man for a high-rise in the expensive neighborhood of Belgrano weeps with happiness about the new pope: "I am very proud that the new pope is from Argentina. I hope that his words will influence all those who with mean and silly things to say."
Clear and concise words
In Villa 31, one of the city's notorious slums, there's an impromptu Mass celebrated for the new pope, for "their" pope. He knew poverty and hardship and he fought against it since he became archbishop of Buenos Aires. It was with short, snappy and pointed statements like "debt is unjust, immoral and illegitimate" that he made a name for himself in Argentina. Bergoglio spoke out against Argentine and Latin American women being abducted and being forced into prostitution. "In a major town, slavery is the order of the day." He was a supporter of the poor and those without a voice.
As archbishop, now Pope Francis didn't use the official car but took the bus or metro like everybody else - in a city of millions where the public transport is a disaster. He could have lived in a villa provided by the church, but instead rented a simple, small apartment. He doesn't drink expensive wine but goes for local tea. And it's exactly that what makes him credible in the eyes of the people. This, however, does not mean that he's a left-wing liberal. When it comes to homosexuality, contraception, priests' celibacy or female priests, the new pope is uncompromisingly conservative.
Conservative, frank and open
It's the mix of conservative doctrine and social commitment that make Francis special - and ensures him respect in his home country and beyond. He is considered to be a pope who could open the church, who knows the real problem of his flock and has solutions ready at hand. He's not an abstract theologian behind the thick walls of the Vatican - but rather a real shepherd who knows what life is about.
But that necessarily leads to conflicts with the government: Argentine President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner congratulated the new pope saying she hoped his fruitful pastoral work would stand for justice, equality, fraternity and peace. They words of praise she never had for the former archbishop. The president and her predecessor had frequently tried to get Bergoglio into court on charges of allegedly cooperating with the Argentine military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s. His rejection of gay marriage and legalizing drugs also did not make his easier for Argentine politicians to work with.
But for now, it's the people who are celebrating. Francis, they are convinced, will lead the church out of its numerable ongoing crises. As a stern conservative and a voice for the poor and disadvantaged he seems to many to be the right man to open a new chapter in the history of the Catholic Church.
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