Buenos Aires: A pope’s city

The Cardinals finally leaped with their faith across the ocean.

In choosing Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio instead of a traditional European, the Cardinals picked a pope of firsts. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit, first Latin American and the first Francis to head the church of 1.2 billion Catholics. It is still ringing in the world’s ears.

But instead of claiming to be the first non-European pope in modern times, perhaps he should claim a more accurate title: first pope from the most European country in South America.

Take a closer look at our new pope’s heritage and the city he comes from. Like most people of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis was born into an Italian immigrant family. Waves of immigration at the turn of the 20th century brought Europeans, mostly Spanish and Italian, to the booming city. Only 100 years ago, Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

While the economy has since dramatically changed, the demographics have not.

The population of Argentina is 97 percent white. This leaves what’s left of the population to nation’s indigenous people and other non-white groups.

I lived and studied in Buenos Aires for half a year, and it was like Buenos Aires was formed in Europe and transplanted to the bottom of South America. Porteños, the name for residents of the city, pride themselves on their European heritage. Everyone I met had a Spanish or Italian family name. Instead of culture shock between America and Argentina, I was surprised by the lack of resemblance between Buenos Aires and the rest of Latin America. Having been to Peru and Mexico, I understood cultures varied greatly by country. However, I never expected the people and culture of Buenos Aires would be a spitting image of their European ancestors.

Pope Francis hails from a city that has been touted the Paris of South America. Everything about the city is European – the way it’s designed and its architecture reflect the trends immigrants brought with them. However, the narrow alleys of Madrid to the wide avenues of Paris are not the only elements of the home country: the culture reflects Europe, too.

As Americans, we tend to think every country south of the border has a passion for spicy food and colorful indigenous textiles. But the only thing Argentina has in common with its continent is its location and language. Don’t get me wrong — Buenos Aires does have it’s own distinct flavor of Latin America. Its claims to fame include the sophisticated dance of Tango (resulted from a mixture of cultures), fried empanadas (actually from Spain) and its people’s lively hand gestures when speaking (which, comes from the Italian language).

Out of all of South America, the Cardinals managed to choose a pope from the most sophisticated, most European cities of the Southern Hemisphere. But that is not to say we shouldn’t give the Cardinals a pat on the back for trying to choose a diverse leader. South America is in fact the home to the largest population of Catholics in the world, so it’s about time a pope hails from there. Though it turns out he is not so non-European, at least he knows and understands the most common Catholic face.

The Cardinals were clever enough to disguise one of their brothers under the cloak of our first Hispanic pope. Let’s just hope Pope Francis is more proud of his Argentine roots, rather than his Italian.

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2 thoughts on “Buenos Aires: A pope’s city

  1. Very good points. I think Buenos Aires does have a distinctly Latin American flavor, but you’re right that his selection may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Though I’m sure Argentines are happy about the choice!

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