For Some Argentines, Papal Election Felt Like a "Futbol" Match

PHOTO: People celebrate in front of Buenos Aires Cathedral after the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new Pope Francis I on March 13, 2013 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Bergoglio is the first ever Latin American PopeLalo Yasky/Getty Images
People celebrate in front of Buenos Aires Cathedral after the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new Pope Francis I on March 13, 2013 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Bergoglio is the first ever Latin American Pope.

The election of Jorge Bergoglio as the new head of the Catholic Church was welcomed with joy in his native Argentina, where many people hailed the event as a national victory.

Minutes after Bergoglio stepped onto a balcony in the Vatican and smiled at thousands of his followers in the massive plaza below, Argentines developed half a dozen trending topics on Twitter lauding the historical event.

"We have Messi, Maradona, the Pope and the Best Meat Ever, Thank You God for Everything, I am so proud" wrote twitter user @lifedor1D.

"In your face Brazil" said another tweet posted under the hashtag #losargentinosdominamoselMundo, or "Argentines Dominate the World."

Brazil is Argentina's main rival in soccer and economic issues, and two Brazilian cardinals were also top contenders for the Papal job.

Many of these tweets were obviously tongue-in-cheek. But the Pope's election raised genuine sentiments of national pride in largely Catholic Argentina. It's welcome news for a country that has recently suffered a series of depressing economic problems.

"People are reacting as if we have won a soccer game," said Rodrigo Castellanos, an Argentine journalist who now lives in Mexico City. "Most of us come from Catholic families, but we are usually not too serious about religion."

Parallels with soccer abounded on social media, where users shared memes and cartoons that compared the new Pope to legendary striker Diego Maradona. One photo montage even had the new pope holding a portrait of the beloved soccer star with the slogan "Maradona is God."

As the afternoon progressed, a few hundred people gathered at the Buenos Aires Cathedral and at the city's Obelisco monument to celebrate the papal vote. The Obelisco is where Argentines usually gather--in admittedly larger numbers--to celebrate victories by the country's beloved national soccer team.

"I've come to the Obelisco to celebrate, may God bless you Francis, may you renew the church," wrote twitter user @marisabrel.

"Now that there's something to party about and beat Brazil in, everyone will follow the Catholic church," joked twitter user @eliiianaG, who took a satirical view of the gathering.

According to Rodrigo Castellanos, the election of an Argentine Pope, much like a victory on the pitch, will not do much for the country aside from cheering people up and "raising the faith." Castellanos added that 76-year-old Jorge Bergoglio, now called Pope Francis, can't be seen as giving any preferential treatment to his home country.

"He will have to prove [to European skeptics] that he is worthy of the job, and he will have to treat everyone equally," Castellanos said. "He will not be able to perform any special favors for Argentina or any other Latin American countries."

In Argentine media, coverage of the papal election centered largely on Bergoglio's background, with most sources describing the new pope as a humble man who gave up luxuries, traveled in public transport and cooked his own food. Local priests also noted that, as a bishop and cardinal, Bergoglio spent much of his time working in the poorer neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.

Some papers also wrote about the rocky relationship between the new Pope and Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, with La Nacion pointing out that, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio "directly confronted" a government initiative to legalize gay marriage and urged priests around the country to "defend family values" in their homilies.

Bergoglio also accused the Kirchner government of not doing enough to reduce "scandalous" poverty rates in Argentina, and scolded the Kirchner administration for its handling of a train crash that killed dozens of people.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, a U.S. publication, it was exactly this combination of social activism, personal austerity and respect for conservative family values that made Bergoglio a strong papal candidate.

The Catholic Reporter pointed out that Bergoglio was also the first ever member of the Jesuit order to be elected to the papal throne.

"He appealed to conservatives in the College of Cardinals as a man who had held the line against liberalizing currents among the Jesuits, and to moderates as a symbol of the church's commitment to the developing world," the National Catholic Reporter said.

On Wednesday evening, after Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Argentine news anchor Eduardo Feinmann briefly laid these political discussions aside and shared his own feelings of national pride with his countrymen.

"As I was leaving St Peter's square, I saw a French journalist making his report," Feinmann said on Argentina's C5N TV. "You cannot imagine the sense of pride one feels, when an international journalist behind you or besides you is saying that the Pope is Argentinean."