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Pope Francis: Being humble makes a big impression

March 15, 2013|By Richard Fausset
  • A vendor sells calendars featuring Pope Francis outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires.
A vendor sells calendars featuring Pope Francis outside the Metropolitan… (Natacha Pisarenko / Associated…)

BUENOS AIRES -- With its dozen Corinthian columns supporting a triangular pediment, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires might be mistaken, by the casual tourist, for a really nice bank -- and perhaps no more so than on Friday afternoon, when a line of people had formed in the entryway.

They were waiting to take a photo of a modest sign, printed on a smallish sheet of paper, that announced, "Habemus papam." We have a pope. Below that was a photo of the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, who had become Pope Francis two days before.

Today “Padre Jorge,” as Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio was known to his Argentine flock, was half a world away, amid the splendor of Rome, with the world (or at least the world’s devout Roman Catholics, and the  news media) hanging on his every word. Yet there was a time not long ago when the locals could have taken photos of Padre Jorge here, in the flesh, chatting in the heart of town with street people, vendors and office workers, or jumping on the bus to some other part of town, dressed, said church visitor Brigida Trasmonte, “just like any other priest.”

Francis lived next door to the church, in a 10-story building owned by the archdiocese. He chose, now famously, to live on the third floor in a plain room, with a bed, a chair, a desk and a radio, forgoing the traditional fancy apartment where past archbishops lived.

The world has seen similar gestures from the new pope this week: He has said he will forgo the big gold cross, the popemobile and the fancy shoes favored by his predecessors. He has told his followers to take the money that they might be tempted to spend traveling to Rome to visit his inauguration and give it to the poor instead.

“I think that’s important, because the church, you know, has a reputation for ostentation,” said Trasmonte, a 59-year-old nurse, after taking a picture of the pope sign with her cellphone.

The new papal image, she said, might  “help the church on a worldwide level.”

Residents of elegant, cultured Buenos Aires aren’t  known for their humility -- quite the opposite, in fact. But the mood on Friday was a  reserved joy. The yellow and white Vatican flag has appeared here and there: Outside of the cathedral, it hung between the flags of the city and country. Newsstands have begun selling posters of the world-famous man who may have once been just another customer.

Pedro Velis, 56, was doing a brisk business selling new pope key chains and buttons, which were going for $20 to $40 pesos (about $4 to $8) a pop. When he ran out, a man in a Yankees jacket would discreetly pull up on a 10-speed bicycle with more in a backpack.

Velis said he was always impressed with the way Bergoglio, a Buenos Aires native, would walk out on the square and shoot the breeze.

“When you’re made of buena madera,” or good wood, Velis said, "I don’t care if you’re an electrician or an astronaut or even the pope. All that matters to me is whether you’re a good person.”


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