Silvio Rodriguez holds a Jesuit-style sugar cane container for yerba mate — a South American infusion made from evergreen holly — which then-Cardinal Bergoglio was often seen drinking in the streets of Buenos Aires. Argentine-born Rodriguez owns El Almacen Café in Toronto. He was very pleased his countryman was elected Pope Francis. Photo by Vanessa Santilli

Toronto’s Argentines rejoice in Pope Francis

  • March 23, 2013

TORONTO - Former priest Peter Doherty is happy a fellow Argentine was elevated to the papacy. But he’s even happier knowing the Church is in the good hands of the man who ordained him.

“He is a man of faith, a role model and true witness of the Gospel,” said Mississauga-based Doherty, who was ordained by then Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires in 1995. “It’s very hard to find someone like him.”

Through a series of one-on-one sessions where Doherty discerned the implications of his strong desire to start a family, Bergoglio — chosen as Pope Francis March 13 — helped the young priest through a very difficult time. Doherty is now married with five children.

With the College of Cardinals selecting the first Latin American Pope, Argentines in Toronto — and beyond — are celebrating this cultural milestone.

When Silvio Rodriguez heard the new Pope hailed from Argentina, he was shocked.

“I’m sure this is going to affect not just Argentina but all those countries in South America that are in dire need of religious influence,” said Rodriguez, who owns El Almacen Café (which translates to “the general store”) on Queen Street West in Toronto.

Born in the province of Mendoza, he has heard tales from family and friends about how the new Pope dedicated plenty of time to poor neighbourhoods.

“Everybody knows — and it’s a fact in Argentina — that he took public transit to work and he cooked his own meals and he lived in a humble apartment. That’s just his personality,” said Rodriguez.

“I think it’s going to bring a lot more people into the Church.”

Fr. Miguel Segura, pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Toronto, says that all Latin Americans — not just Argentines — are excited about the selection of Pope Francis.

“People will applaud at Mass and we are going to say ‘Viva el Papa... The Latinos are a very joyful community,” said Segura, whose parish is mainly Hispanic.

“It’s very positive because what I’ve heard about him is that he is a very humble person. He is close to the people and their suffering.”

Terry Cambre was filled with joy upon hearing the selection of the name Francis, chosen in honour of St. Francis of Assisi — the Italian saint who lived a life of poverty and simplicity. The wife of the late Deacon Bert Cambre, former director of deacons in the archdiocese of Toronto, said St. Francis was her husband’s favourite saint.

“I think that he is enjoying this in heaven,” said Cambre of her husband, who launched many ministries for the marginalized in the archdiocese.

Born in Buenos Aires, she received calls from friends living as far away as Cuba after Pope Francis stepped out onto the balcony at St. Peter’s for the first time.

“I think he can bring change that will surprise us,” said Cambre. “Like Pope John XXIII who they said would be around for just a short while and he called the Second Vatican Council. You never know what will happen because the Holy Spirit is behind all this.”

She is taking Pope Francis’ requests for prayers of support to heart.

“It’s really exciting and I commit myself to help with my will of humble prayer.”

Fr. Jimmy Zammit didn’t initially hear Cardinal Bergoglio’s name declared as somebody in the room spoke at the moment of the announcement.

“But as soon as they said he went to his office every day by public transit, I immediately knew who it was,” said the pastor at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Toronto.

In 2010, Zammit was sent to Buenos Aires on behalf of the Franciscans to meet with then Cardinal Bergoglio.

“He was very human and approachable,” recalls Zammit, who shares the new Pope’s Italian roots. “He was a balanced man. He wanted to make sure everyone was treated fairly.

“My hopes are that the Holy Spirit will continue to bless us and surprise us in so many ways that we don’t expect.”

(Santilli is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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