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Argentina Reacts To Pope Francis


And for more perspective on what this means in Argentina, we reached the correspondent for Reuters, Hugh Bronstein, in Buenos Aires. Good morning.

HUGH BRONSTEIN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So this was pretty unexpected generally. What was the reaction like there in Argentina?

BRONSTEIN: This was a shock at first for Argentina. He was a real dark horse, but the shock soon gave way to jubilation. The people were rushing to the churches here in Buenos Aires, and throughout the country there were people crying on the streets, shouting on the streets. There's no doubt that this was major news for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

MONTAGNE: Now, there seems to be a lot of interest in his modest way of life. What do you know about that, how he lived there in Buenos Aires?

BRONSTEIN: He's known for someone who had two feet on the ground. He was very sensible in his way of living. It's not seen very well in Argentina to show off one's position.

MONTAGNE: Yes. And I gather - there have been reports that he didn't fly business class when he would go to Rome, things like that, that he would say give the money to the poor.

BRONSTEIN: That's true. He has been through several economic crises here in Argentina. Argentina has an economic model that tends toward overheating every 10 years or so. And the last crisis in 2002 was one in which he saw many parishioners go from being in the middle class one day to being in poverty the next. So this is someone who has seen up close the effects of inflation, of poverty, and political and economic uncertainty. So he's known as someone who cares very much about poverty. He does not like the lack of political dialogue and the polarization that has gone on in Argentina. And this is something that he's been embraced for here, and there are going to be a lot of questions asked, particularly about his position on the dictatorship in the 1970s and '80s. There are some criticisms that he did not protect his Jesuit priests the way that he could have or should have during that period, and there is going to be a lot of stories written, if not more books written, about that in the weeks and months ahead.

MONTAGNE: Well, he certainly did not embrace something that was popular in Central and South America at the time, which was liberation theology. Among Catholic clergy, he is very conservative, even though Argentina is a deeply Catholic country. How do his beliefs square with modern Argentina?

BRONSTEIN: His beliefs are not in line with those of modern Argentina. And he's had a distant if not strained relationship with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, having to do with the fact that her policies are much more progressive than he would like to see. For example, he led the opposition to the gay marriage bill that the president pushed and got passed through Congress in 2010. This is a country that is Catholic. There's no doubt that Roman Catholics form the majority, but not many people go to Mass. If you ask the average Argentine if they're Catholic, they won't hesitate in saying yes, but it's not a fundamental kind of Catholicism.

MONTAGNE: Just finally on a different note, I gather that the new pope is quite a soccer fan.

BRONSTEIN: Well, that's right, Renee. And that is something for which he has been very much embraced. He is a fan of San Lorenzo, which is one of the top five soccer teams here in Argentina - soccer being the second-most popular religion here in the country. So what you have is a pope, the world leader of the Catholic Church, who is known for riding the bus from his apartment every day to work from his neighborhood that's close to the headquarters of the San Lorenzo Soccer Club, getting on the bus, talking about the team's performance the night before, getting to work, just like any other Argentine, and people seem to embrace him for that.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

BRONSTEIN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Hugh Bronstein is a correspondent for Reuters, speaking to us from Buenos Aires, Argentina about the new Pope Francis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.