BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – 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.
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.
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.