South Americans, students, cheer new pope

Some are surprised by conclave's choice

March 13, 2013

By Rebecca Kruth, Adriana Cardona-Maguigad and Susie An

(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

Updated 11:30 p.m.

Roman Catholics around Greater Chicago watched eagerly Wednesday as the new pope was announced in Rome.

Pope Francis, who is Argentine, is the first pontiff from South America.

At Tango Sur, an Argentinean restaurant on Chicago's North Side, Chicagoans from his native country and Bolivia celebrated Wednesday night.

"We are excited, we are happy," said Julia Encinas. "Finally a pope from Latin America. We think it’s the best representation of actually maybe more than half of the Catholics in this whole country or maybe even the world."

"I couldn’t believe it when it came out, when this announcement was Argentine," said Alejandro Gonzalez. "I was proud, you know, because (of) being Argentine. My mom she was also excited, my whole family was excited."

The leader of the Argentine American Midwest Chamber of Commerce, Jaime Rojkind, said he was pleasantly surprised. He said the choice speaks to the important role Latin America plays in Catholicism.

“He’s a humble man with a great reputation," Rojkind said. "So I think he was a good choice, represents Latin America well. I think in the context, it could’ve been Brazil, a very important contender. But of course, as Argentineans, we’re very happy that it was him."

Rojkind says he also admires the 76-year-old pope's humble beginnings. Pope Francis’ parents were working-class immigrants from Italy.

Earlier in the day, students in the freshmen religion class at St. Patrick High School in Portage Park tuned in to the announcement.

All eyes were on the TV in the corner of the classroom as students waited for the new pope to appear for the first time, by walking out on the balcony in the Vatican.

"I think for them, they sense the history that's going on. I think at age 14 or 15, it's hard to grasp it totally," said their teacher, Rich Raho. "But they clearly are excited."

Cheers erupted in the classroom as Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio made his entrance as the newly elected Pope Francis.

Student Ben Stojack said the outcome wasn't exactly what he had been expecting.

"It's a bit of a surprise that he came from Argentina. I was expecting someone from Africa, actually," Stojack said. "[But] as long as he's a good pope, I'm happy."

Africa is the world's quickest-growing region for Catholics, while South America has the largest concentration.

Teacher Rich Raho says the class had been learning about the conclave process and the candidates for pope.

"I'm excited to be able to share this moment with the students," Raho said.