Argentine Catholics in Arizona take pride in new pope

Nuns carrying an Argentine national flag smile after listening to Pope Francis lead his first Angelus from the window of his private apartment in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 17. (CNS photo/Paul Hanna, Reuters)
Nuns carrying an Argentine national flag smile after listening to Pope Francis lead his first Angelus from the window of his private apartment in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 17. (CNS photo/Paul Hanna, Reuters)

Catholics from the Americas and Argentina, including those who now live in Arizona, were particularly elated when the Vatican announced “Habemus Papam” March 13.

Sr. María Bendita, mother superior of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, was watching coverage on EWTN with the pastor of St. Anthony Parish on First Avenue north of Buckeye Road when she heard the news.

“We prayed a lot for him, of course, but we never imagined a Latin [American] pope,” said Sr. María, who lived in Argentina for 22 years.

She attended a few Masses at the cathedral celebrated by then-archbishop Jorge Bergoglio. She remembers him talking to the youth, herself included, and encouraging them to live the Catholic faith as good lay people.

The pope’s lifestyle, as his chosen name implies, is imbued with simplicity. Stories about Pope Francis’ preference for public transportation and diligence in carrying his luggage and footing a recent hotel bill went viral.

“He really lives poverty. He’s not going to change his lifestyle in that sense,” Sr. María said.

Fr. Raul Lopez, a native of Argentina, knows the pope’s name is according to his personality. The parochial vicar of Sr. Mary Mediatrix Mission in Yarnell spent 16 years as a priest in the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country. A tear rolled down his cheek when he saw the cardinal, who he called “a good friend of the black sheep, the sinner,” now dressed in white and on the papal balcony.

It was a moment of, “You — on the balcony?” Fr. Lopez said. A common cultural heritage translated to a bigger responsibility to pray for the new pope — and for himself, that  the Holy Spirit would help him serve with more heart and mercy.

The priest called Cardinal Bergoglio — the name by which he has known the pope for years — “a special man” who told priests not to be in the rectory, but out with the people, especially the marginalized, such as victims of prostitution.

Like the beggar saint in Assisi, Fr. Lopez sees Pope Francis spreading a constant message of “put confidence in God, not money. We have only one power: our Father, God,” he said.

Fr. Lopez is sure Pope Francis is up for the challenge of his newly elected office because “his ear is to the Holy Spirit first.”