Catholic and Hispanic communities are predictably eager to welcome Pope Francis to the Big Apple later this month — but the city’s 15,000 plus Argentinos are over the moon.
For the 0.2% of NYC’s population who is Argentinean, having a charismatic world leader they can call their own — much less a world leader who tweets sentiments such as “A Christian who is too attached to riches has lost his way” — is a tremendous source of orgullo, or pride.
“They are fanatical because they can claim he’s from Argentina,” and are proud to share heritage with such a revered man, explained Pedro Fernandez, an Argentine waiter from Woodside.
While Pope Francis, who was born in Buenos Aires as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, hasn’t substantially altered the dogma of the Catholic church, “he’s changed the culture to one of compassion,” said the Rev. Fabian Arias, an Argentine who converted from Catholicism and who is now a pastor at Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in midtown.
Arias compared Francis’s change-agent powers to those of Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King and praised the pontiff’s commitment to interfaith dialogue, mercy and understanding, and “love.”
“For us, (the papal visit) is incredibly important,” said Coco Arregui, 67, an East Harlem musician and tango organizer. “He’s Argentinean! He’s the pope!”
Arregui rhapsodically segued into praise for a pope who speaks out against global warming while radiating Latin warmth and hearty Argentine values. (In his youth, Pope Francis danced tango; he continues to enjoy traditional music known as milongas.) “He gets so close to everybody!” bubbled Arregui, who saw His Holiness in Rome last year and deemed his charismatic humility and concern for the world’s poor as “magic.”
“We’re trying to get him to come and eat some food here,” confided Marcello Civelli, 66, the owner of El Gauchito in Elmhurst. Civelli said he was networking aggressively to entice His Holiness to dine at his restaurant. “I’m not joking: I have a friend who works with some people who work with him,” said Civelli, who would happily close his 90-seat restaurant down if Pope Francis deigned to stop by. “We’re right between two airports! I imagine he has to come through,” one of them, Civelli said.
Many of the city’s Argentines are hoping that Pope Francis will address immigration issues during his NYC visit from Sept. 24-25 and “remind those who claim to be Christians what it means to be Christians,” when it comes to sympathizing with the plight of undocumented immigrants, especially in light of remarks by certain presidential hopefuls, said Bianca Vidal, 29, an adjunct professor of psychology who lives in Hell’s Kitchen and runs the “Argentinos En NY” Facebook page.
Vidal’s 5,500-plus readership is desperate to get a glimpse of “El Papa,” with many despairing that tickets to the Madison Square Garden mass at 6 p.m. Sept. 25 have already been given away through area churches. Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced “The Central Park Papal Procession ticket giveaway contest” in which tickets would be distributed by lottery to New York State residents who enter the online and 311 lottery between Sept. 3 and 7. Those who miss out on winning the lottery will mourn deeply, Vidal said.
Some NYC Argentines plan on following the pope to Philadelphia, Vidal continued, as it is currently believed that “that the mass (there) will be outside and anyone can go.”