by Antonina Zielinska
As the world waited in anticipation for Rome to announce the name of the cardinal who would become supreme pontiff, three seniors of Argentinian heritage were finishing their school day at St. John’s Prep, Astoria.
Merlina Rodas was at track practice when she stopped to watch the news following white smoke in Rome. Julia Baez was studying in the library when she heard the news.
Andrew Fernandez received an unexpected text as he was walking home.
“You must be proud,” his friend wrote him. Fernandez was taken aback at first and asked his friend what he meant.
That is how Fernandez found out that the newly named pontiff, Pope Francis, hailed from Argentina, his family’s homeland.
“When I got the text, I thought: Finally, Argentina is going to be recognized,” he said.
When Baez saw the new pope make his first television appearance in his papal outfit, her mind went to her grandmother who still lives in Argentina. She went home joyfully to tell her mother.
“She was really happy and called my grandma,” Baez said.
When Rodas saw the new pope she recognized him from an assignment she had to complete for her religion class. The class learned about the major players in the conclave. That’s how she learned the Catholic world might be led by an Argentinian pope. She was delighted to see her hope come true.
Pride to America
“It brings pride to not only Argentina, but to all of South America,” she said.
“It’s kind of nice to be recognized by the rest of the world.”
Fernandez said he is happy that the cardinals considered someone outside of Europe.
“But I’m sure all Catholics think the same, maybe with a little different perspective,” he said.
“It brings more diversity,” Baez said. “It brings us more culturally together. It brings us together with God.”
Rodas said Pope Francis is truly a man who cares for the universal Church as exemplified by the fact that he helped other countries, among them Italy, when he was cardinal.
“A lot of people stick to their own culture,” she said, “but he got out into the world and made a connection.”
Fernandez said he admires Pope Francis not only because he can make international connections, but also because he can connect with people.
He said he was truly impressed to learn that the newly elected pontiff took public transportation when he was a cardinal and took a bus after he was installed as pope.
“He wanted to show that he is nothing special,” said Fernandez. “He is part of the community. He took the train with the people.”
Rodas said that another common factor he shares with the people is his suffering. She said his health problems as a young boy can help him empathize with the sickness of the world.
Baez also said she got the impression that Pope Francis will easily connect with the people. She was happy to see that he truly has a human personality when he made a joke to open his first public speech to the world.
“You all know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome,” Pope Francis said from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.
“It seems that my brother cardinals have come almost to the ends of the Earth to get him … but here we are.”