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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

LONDON — Tears and cheers erupted across Latin America on Wednesday as an Argentine cardinal became the first pope from the hemisphere, and many expressed hope that he could help bring the church closer to the poverty-wracked region that is home to more Roman Catholics than any other.

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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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Drivers honked horns on the streets of Argentina's capital and television announcers screamed with elation at the news that the cardinal they knew as Jorge Mario Bergoglio had become Pope Francis.

People jammed the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires for a Mass for the new pope, and priests said they hadn't seen such a big crowd in decades.

"Francisco! Francisco!" the faithful screamed. Outside, a thousand people sang and waved Vatican and Argentine flags as well as banners with the image of the Virgin of Lujan, the patron saint of Argentina.

"I'm old, it's difficult to move around, but today I had to come," said Nelida Bedino, an 85-year-old retiree. "As a Catholic and an Argentine, I thank God for giving me life to be a witness to this event."

"It's a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait," said Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar at the church of St. Francis of Assisi in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico.

"Everyone from Canada down to Patagonia is going to feel blessed," he said after exchanging high-fives with church secretary Antonia Veloz.

Bergoglio's former spokesman, Guillermo Marco, told Argentina's TN television station that the new 76-year-old pope — who is also the first from the Jesuit order — "has enormous pastoral experience" with a humble bearing.

"You can count the occasions when he used a car with a chauffeur," Marco said. "His choices of life as cardinal have been to have a normal, common life."

The new pope was known for taking the subway and mingling with the poor of Buenos Aires while archbishop.

That common touch was evident in the new pope's first words to the crowd.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing, when he started saying, 'Good afternoon,' just like someone saying hello to a friend," said Bishop Eugenio Lira, secretary-general of the Mexican Conference of Bishops. "He will certainly be the pope who is closest to the people of Latin America. He knows the problems of Latin America very well."

Soledad Loaeza, a political science professor at the Colegio de Mexico who studies the church, said he was a logical choice. "First, Latin America is the most important region in the world for the church," but one where evangelical churches have been making inroads. "So it may also be an attempt to stop the decline in the number of Catholics."

For church leaders seeking growth, instead of the aging, declining congregations in Europe or the United States, "there are only two regions," Loaeza said: Africa and Latin America.

Nearly half of the world's Roman Catholics live in the Americas, north and south, or the Caribbean.

In Cuba, parish priest Gregorio Alvarez said he believes Francis' background could lead the church to focus more on the ills afflicting humanity, and less on internal issues.

"One hopes that the church will be closer to the problems of humankind and not only the problems of the church," Alvarez said at the Jesus of Miramar Church in a leafy western suburb of Havana, where bells pealed following the announcement.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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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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