Sr. Pilar Valdes
Argentinians and other local Latin American Catholics are happy they now have a strong connection to the Vatican through Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope in history.
"This is the best thing that could have happened not just for us Argentinians but for the whole of Latin America and the world," Olga Salo, an Argentinian from Buenos Aires, said March 18. "This is a blessing of the Holy Spirit."
Salo, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Spanish-speaking Parish, said she expected a Latin American cardinal to become pope. "It was either Cardinal (Jorge) Bergoglio or the Brazilian cardinal, but I had a feeling it would be somebody from South America."
When she heard the announcement on her car radio, Salo didn't know what to do and so she honked her horn repeatedly.
"It was like winning the World Cup but much bigger," she said. "He is the first Spanish-speaking pope and comes, as he said, from the end of the world."
Salo feels somewhat close to the new pope. She recalled attending Masses, blessings and processions led by Bergoglio in Buenos Aires before coming to Edmonton 22 years ago.
"He is an extraordinary person. Imagine! He received Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who had closed her doors to him in the past. That's a tremendous act of humility on his part."
Salo fully expects Francis to revive the faith in Latin America, just like John Paul II did in Poland and throughout Europe.
Argentinian-Canadian Juan Telechea, the founder of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said the election of Bergoglio took him by surprise.
"When my wife called to let me know, I said, 'No, I don't believe it.' But then I got a call from my sister in Buenos Aires saying, 'Juan, the new pope is Argentinian.' We both started to cry with happiness."
Deacon Mauricio Amador
Telechea, who now lives in Summerland, B.C., said Bergoglio's election is a demonstration that the Church is universal, even though there hasn't been a pope from outside of Europe for more than 1,300 years.
He described the new pope as a man of the world who can work with everybody, from the poorest of poor to the wealthiest of the wealthy.
"He took the Universal Church of Jesus Christ wherever he went, including the shantytowns," he said. "I believe he is going to continue to do that."
Mario Allende, a lay leader at Our Lady of Guadalupe and a renowned Chilean cultural promoter, was expecting to see an African or Canadian pope.
When he learned he was Argentinian he was happy because "I wanted the papacy to get out of Europe," he said. "I was hoping for somebody who can give us a different perspective. From that point of view, the election of Cardinal Bergoglio was excellent news."
Allende believes the election of a Latin American to the papacy is important because the continent has 42 per cent of the world's Catholic population.
"I think this is going to be a positive thing for Latin America and for the Church," he said. "Now Latin American Catholics will pay more attention to what happens in Rome."
From the minute Allende heard about Bergoglio's election, he wondered what role, if any, Bergoglio had played in Argentina's Dirty War, where more than 30,000 Argentinians were killed.
"We knew that the Argentinian Church did not oppose the dictatorship the way the Chilean Church did," Allende pointed out. "I hope the pope will have the chance to prove us wrong."
Sister Pilar Valdes, pastoral assistant at Our Lady of Guadalupe, said the election of an Argentinian to the papacy was a very good surprise. "It brings hope to Latin America," she said. "I hope he'll restore unity in the Latin American Church and bring back those who have left."
Many disappointed Catholics have joined Protestant sects throughout Central and South America in the past two decades.
Valdes is impressed by the new pope's humility, which he showed at St. Peter's Square moments after he was elected.
"When he asked for the blessing of the people before he would bless them, I said, 'Wow, this is a man of God,'" the sister told the WCR. "I'm praying that God will inspire him to be the guide we had been waiting for."
Deacon Mauricio Amador of Our Lady of Guadalupe said he felt a "tremendous happiness" when he learned a Latin American cardinal had been elected pope.
"He is everybody's pope but the fact he speaks Spanish has a lot of significance for us," the deacon said. "The fact he is Latino is going to inject more life to the Latin American Church, which has lost many members to the Protestant sects."
Amador, who is originally from El Salvador, believes Pope Francis will project to the world the "Latino spirituality," which is marked by deep faith, devotion and action. He also believes the pope will emphasize the moral teaching of the Church in Latin America, where gay marriage and abortion seem to be gaining ground.
Francis' simplicity and humility are a breath of fresh air in a world so materialistic, Amador said. "He'll teach us to be humble, to see the world with simplicity."