Argentines celebrate Francis as their 'slum pope'

By Luis Andres Henao

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 15 2013 2:15 p.m. MDT

"You can tell that the church is going to change," Vedia said. "The fact that he chose the name Francisco says it all. It says: 'Let's stop messing around and devote ourselves to the poor.' That was St. Francis* message and now 'Francisco' can live it."

In his first appearance at St. Peter's Square, the first Latin American pope bowed to the crowds and asked for their blessing. Back in Argentina, his friends in the slums recognized the gesture as the same sort of humility that won their hearts.

In the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi made it his mission to respond to the poor and show that through simplicity and love, a stronger foundation for the church could be built.

Pope Francis' "mission is now to go on a pilgrimage to all lands, to walk with the people, to lead a church that walks," said Mercedes Trovato, 24, a youth volunteer who wore a wooden cross around her neck.

The pope's sister, Maria Elena Bergoglio, said she is very confident that the pomp and protocol of the Vatican won't dent his lifelong humility. His message to Argentines to spend their money on charities instead of for trips to Rome to see his installation in the Vatican on Tuesday is a strong sign that he won't change, she said.

"That message ... makes me feel like he is still on the same path, that he hasn't been affected — for the moment, at least," she said in an interview with The Associated Press at her home 25 miles west of downtown Buenos Aires. "There is no worse poison than power."

She added that her brother's preference "is for the poor, the weakest, the old, children."

"He has a clear preference for the poor," she said.

Nor did he ever express a desire to become pope, she said. "We would challenge him about it and he would say, 'Oh, please!'"

Bergoglio's friends say he's fundamentally shy. He hardly ever grants media interviews, preferring to speak from the pulpit. But he did agree to chat recently with Jaidr Flores, a 22-year-old host on the parish's Radio FM La 96.

"He was hesitant at first. But I convinced him, and at the end of the interview, he started laughing and said: "You did it! You got me on air!'" said Flores. "One day I went to visit him at his office and I was amazed to see how many pictures of the volunteers and recovered drug addicts from this community he had on his desk. He truly cares for us."

Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao

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