FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Our hometown Pope

Buenos Aires, Argentina

By Enrique Marcarian

Used to covering news with headlines like hyper-inflation, devaluation, coup d'etat, protest, bond default, election, poverty, earthquake, and even papal visit, I never imagined what it would be like to cover the papal conclave in the new Pope's country of origin. What made it even more baffling was the fact that the winner was someone we never dreamed it would be.

The day the conclave began was one when all the elements around me seemed to confirm that there was no chance of an Argentine Pope. I went to the Metropolitan Cathedral to take pictures of the optimistic worshippers, and found just one nun praying in a nearly empty church.

The next day, a phone call from a colleague shook me up. He told me that a journalist, who is notorious for always being wrong in his predictions, had said, "Bergoglio won't be elected for many reasons." That was when we decided we should go to the Cathedral.

Fifteen minutes before the name of the new Pope was announced, I commented to my editor that if he prepared the archive photos of Bergoglio, I would go to the Cathedral. His answer was to remain calm. “The next Pope will likely be Brazilian,” he said. In the end I’m not sure which of us was more surprised.

We immediately began searching for members of the new Pope’s family in Argentina, his old schools, and any details about his past life that might lead to historic photos.

from Photographers' Blog:

Falkland Islanders take on an Argentine Pope

By Marcos Brindicci

Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

Czech journalist Jeri Hasek appeared in the hotel lobby saying to some of us Argentines, "You have a Pope! An Argentine Pope!"

The truth is, here in the Falkland Islands some swearing was heard after the news. I have to admit that, no matter what your opinion on the church and religious matters are, it is kind of exciting to learn that someone from your country gets to be Pope. But as an Argentine, I know this will boost our ego, and that can't be good.

I left the hotel to find my co-workers from Reuters TV to tell them the news and I ran into Patrick Watts, a Falkland Islands journalist. Patrick told me, "Well, you can't have the Falklands, but at least you got yourselves a Pope."

Argentina’s soccer team settles outstanding debt with the Virgin

(Sergio Batista, head coach of the Argentine national soccer team, in Buenos Aires May 16, 2011/Enrique Marcarian)

Argentina’s national soccer team coach Sergio Batista has settled a 25-year-old debt that many fans felt had denied Argentina from clinching a major prize following their second World Cup title. Carlos Bilardo’s 1986 World Cup squad, training at high altitude in Argentina’s northwest for the Mexico finals, were reported then to have made a promise to the Virgin of Copacabana to return if they won the title — but they never went back.

Batista and assistant Jose Luis Brown, who both played in that title-winning team captained by Diego Maradona, headed last week to the Andean town of Tilcara to visit the Virgin’s shrine and make up for that supposed omission.

Gay marriage law in Argentina signals waning Catholic power in Latin America

gay buenosThe Catholic Church’s failure to derail a gay marriage law in Argentina shows once powerful clergymen losing their influence in Latin America, where pressure is growing for more liberal social legislation. (Photo: Gay couple in Buenos Aires,  November 25, 2009/Marcos Brindicci)

The law, which lets gay couples marry and adopt children, was approved last week to the cheers of hundreds of gay couples gathered outside Congress despite opposition from churchmen, who called gay families “perverse.”

“We shouldn’t be naive: this isn’t just a political struggle, it’s a strategy to destroy God’s plan,” Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the head of the Church in Argentina, said in a letter before the vote, urging lawmakers to reject the bill.  Mexico City and Uruguay upset the conservative Catholic hierarchy by passing similar legislation last year, and more liberal laws on social issues are likely in the region.

Gays and divorced need not apply as ambassador to Vatican

Pope Benedict and President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, 12 Sept 2008/Jacky NaegelenFor a country keen to improve relations with the Vatican, France has made some surprising faux pas this year. Things have been going well on the surface. President Nicolas Sarkozy has sung the praises of religion in public life several times this year. Pope Benedict was warmly welcomed during his visit to Paris last month. But behind the scenes, Paris has apparently flubbed what should be a routine procedure — naming a new ambassador to the Holy See.

The Foreign Ministry refuses to comment on ambassadorial nominations until they are accepted by the country involved. But with the post open for an unusually long period of 10 months, newspapers in Paris and Rome have begun writing about the delay. Even the Paris Catholic daily La Croix got into the story today. It seems Paris has been rebuffed twice for proposing a gay candidate and a divorced one. The Argentinians could have told Paris to play safe with a solid family man.

The problem began when the former ambassador,  Bernard Kessedjian, died on 19 December 2007, one day before Sarkozy delivered a speech in Rome defending France’s Catholic heritage.  Sarko’s first choice to replace him was Max Gallo, a popular historian and novelist who stresses the Christian roots themes dear to Pope Benedict. Not a diplomat, but a leading intellectual and an interesting choice. Gallo said thanks but he preferred to stay in Paris.

Argentina opts for family man to help patch up ties with Vatican

Pope Benedict meets ambasadors to the Holy See, 9 January 2006/poolArgentina is making a second bid to improve relations with the Vatican after its first attempt caused a diplomatic blunder because Buenos Aires proposed a divorced Catholic with a live-in partner as its new ambassador to the Holy See. The new nominee is reported to be a safer bet. Former government minister Juan Pablo Cafiero is married and the father of four children. In a radio interview over the weekend, he defended the centre-left government as  “the first government in decades that has focused on the distribution of wealth and a preference for the poor … linked to a concept of social justice that is based on humanistic, Christian thinking.”

Local media reported earlier this year that Argentina might leave the post vacant after the Vatican gave a thumbs down to former Justice Minister Alberto Iribarne. The Vatican never actually rejected his nomination. It just never confirmed it, which was a clear message that he didn’t have a prayer. As befits a future ambassador, Cafiero made no reference to that diplomatic faux pas.

The Roman Catholic Church does not approve of divorce and Catholics who do end their marriages are required to seek an annulment from the Church before they can remarry with the Church’s blessing.

Debate over who’s a “real Jew” roils Argentine Jewish community

AMIA logoThe newly elected president of Argentina’s biggest Jewish community center sparked a firestorm when he was quoted in the press as saying he wanted the group to represent “genuine Jews” who live strictly by the Torah.

Guillermo Borger is the first Orthodox Jew elected to head the AMIA (Argentine Israeli Mutual Association) center in Buenos Aires, which was founded 114 years ago. Argentina’s Jewish community is the largest in Latin America with nearly 200,000 members.

Borger was quoted last weekend by Argentina’s biggest daily newspaper Clarin as saying he planned to “reinforce AMIA’s role in representing genuine Jews.” When asked what made a Jew genuine, he said: “It’s having a life based on all the Torah’s teachings.”

Catholic museum probes soccer’s debt to religion

AC Milan’s Kaka wears “I belong to Jesus” shirt, 21 May 2008/Leonhard FoegerThe museum at Vienna’s Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Stephen has a new exhibition meant to show what it says soccer owes to religion. As my colleague Alexandra Hudson writes from the Austrian capital:

Players such as Argentina’s Diego Maradona are venerated as saints of the modern age, the exhibition explains, and fans frequently set up shrines or collect “relics” of their favourite teams or players.

“There are many parallels between the cult of football and the rituals of the Christian Church,” said museum director Bernhard Böhler.

Papal succession speculation sweepstakes off and running

Cardinals file into the Sistine Chapel for conclave, 18 April 2005/poolThe papal succession speculation sweepstakes are truly off and running. The Paris daily Le Figaro started it shortly after Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States with an article saying he looked tired and pointedly mentioning possible successors. The Vatican promptly denied any health problems and veteran vaticanisti poured cold water on the story. While we mentioned this here on the blog, we haven’t done a story for the Reuters file because it’s way too early for such speculation. B16 looks like he’s in pretty good shape for 81.

But once the gates were open, two leading religion writers saw no reason to hold back. Henri Tincq, long-time religion correspondent for Le Monde in Paris, came out on Friday with a full-page portrait of the current favourite pick (here in French). The headline reads: Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, le cardinal tout-terrain (the all-terrain cardinal). Tincq starts off with an interesting lead: “There is no doubt that, if he is elected pope one day, he will allow cardinals and bishops to take the controls of a small plane or helicopter for their pastoral tours.” It seems he’s been told by the Vatican not to pilot aircraft anymore.

Tincq paints a lively portrait of the archbishop of Tegucigalpa who, apart from his religious vocation, is an amateur pilot, an accomplished musician (saxophone, organ, guitar, drums, double bass, marimba), speaks seven languages, has lobbied successfully for Third World debt relief and now heads Caritas Internationalis. And he’s only 65, meaning he has a long “window” of eligibility ahead of him.

Diplomatic blunder hurts church-state ties in Argentina

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, 16 Jan. 2008/Marcos BrindicciArgentina’s new president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is trying to improve relations with the Roman Catholic Church, but progress doesn’t come easy. Church-state ties turned tense under her husband Nestor, who preceded her as president from 2003 to 2007, because he occasionally alluded to church complicity in the country’s brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship. And his health minister, who favored loosening restrictions on abortion, had a public spat with the bishop assigned to tending to the country’s military forces.

So when Fernandez took office in December, she moved quickly to patch things up. One step she took was to meet the head of the Argentine Bishops’ Conference , Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit who ran against Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election. However, the honeymoon didn’t last long. This time the problem was with the Vatican, which effectively rejected her new ambassador to the Holy See. The candidate, former Justice Minister Alberto Iribarne, is Catholic but divorced and living with a new partner, something the Church does not approve of.

Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican CityThe Vatican did not reject Iribarne’s nomination outright. It simply did not confirm him in the post, which in diplomatic terms means he hasn’t got a prayer. Local media report that Argentina is awaiting some formal response from the Vatican, but local Church sources say that is unlikely to materialise.