The joke doing the rounds in Buenos Aires at the moment is that porteños, as locals here are known, care more about football than the new Pope. But following the surprise appointment of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, as the new Bishop of Rome last week, Argentineans have clearly warmed to the idea of having their own pontiff. Thousands of people packed the capital’s main square over the past two days to celebrate Francis’s inauguration.
All aspects of life here seem to link back to the beautiful game, and the mood on Monday evening was every inch the stadium spectacle, a mixture of chanting, clapping and festive mood. The city was determined to put on a show, draping yellow and white Vatican flags from government buildings, alongside the light blue and white Argentinean national colours, and erecting giant screens with a live stream from the Vatican.
Teenagers came in their droves for the all-night vigil that began on Monday evening and ran through to the papal ceremony that began just after 5am local time. “The young people are really important,” said Candelaria Ramos, 20, a student who had headed downtown with other friends from Catholic Action Argentina. “It’s great to see so many teenagers here who care about the Church and the pope. It is overwhelming.”
At 3.30am, the faithful received an unexpected phone call from the Pope himself, broadcast on loudspeakers. He thanked the crowd for “having got together to pray” before telling them to “look after each other”. As he finished, chants of “Viva el Papa!” broke out.
For Oscar Luis, 59, dressed in a Pope cap and T-shirt, the inauguration of Francis was an important step for his country. “I’m very proud. Argentina has been reborn with this Pope,” he said. “Many people here have left the Church, but with him there [in the Vatican] something extraordinary can happen.”