The Curse of Having an Argentine Pope
Fernando Lozada

(English Translation: David Rand)

When on March 13th members of the Vatican College of Cardinals elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church, we Argentines who work for a secular state knew that we could expect a new onslaught of clericalism in Latin America and in our country in particular.

The head of government of the City of Buenos Aires reacted quickly and the same night that the conclave announced the news, the government of the city installed yellow lighting in two distinctive places of Buenos Aires, coincidentally the same color used by the ruling party.

Representatives of various political parties were determined not to be outdone by the chief executive of the city of Buenos Aires and began presenting in the Buenos Aires Legislature all kinds of projects to honour the new Argentine Pope. Cristian Ritondo and Roberto Quattromano requested a plaque on a house in Membrillar street where the new pontiff spent his childhood (the plaque was subsequently installed), Daniel Amoroso proposed that the name of Carabobo Avenue be changed to “Papa Francisco”; Ritondo and Jorge Garayalde also proposed that name for the subway line A. Fernando de Andreis, Victoria Morales Gorleri, Daniel Lipovetzky, Daniel Amoroso and Adriana Montes prepared draft declarations of “pleasure and pride” in the coronation of George Bergoglio as supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the city of Mar del Plata in an ordinary session of city council, a councilor proposed to “reserve the name of Francis I for the new plaza to be built in the block belonging to the city, opposite the Museum of Contemporary Art.”

On Tuesday March 19th, the new pontiff Bergoglio assumed the name Francis and a delegation headed by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner traveled to the Vatican, accompanied by 140 people, including representatives of the three branches of State and community leaders and unions.

Immediately after Bergoglio’s election, the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Ricardo Lorenzetti, declared the papal election to be “a very important topic” and that “We Argentines, regardless of the position that each may have on specific issues, should all take an interest in and support this.” Later the minister and the newly proclaimed Pope had epistolary exchanges that were made public.

In Buenos Aires a Vatican flag was raised in the traditional Plaza de la República, in honour of Cardinal and Archbishop of the city, Jorge Bergoglio.

On March 14th, emblematic monuments of Buenos Aires were lit with papal yellow: the historical May Pyramid and Monument to the Magna Carta and the Four Argentine Regions, and paradoxically the Galileo Galilei Planetarium.

On March 19th, Governor Jose Manuel de la Sota, joined by the Archbishop of Cordoba, Monsignor Carlos Ñáñez and mayor Javier Ramón Mestre, unveiled in the square of Las Tejas park a plaque in honour of the new Pope. On the same date, public schools in the provinces of Formosa, Chaco, La Rioja, Santa Cruz and Buenos Aires were closed for a holiday in celebration of the beginning of the pontificate.

On March 21st, Daniel Lipovetzky, congressman of Buenos Aires, proposed that Elementary School No. 8 of School District No. 11 be renamed “Papa Francisco” in recognition of the supreme pontiff.

On March 26th, the name “Francisco” was applied to a stretch of 53rd avenue between 14th and 19th streets in the city of La Plata. Such was the decision of Mayor Pablo Bruera.

On March 27th, Councilman Jorge Boasso of the city of Rosario, province of Santa Fe, presented a draft ordinance in honour and recognition to the first Argentine and Latin American pope in history, and saw an urgent need to designate by the name of “Pope Francisco” the stretch of Buenos Aires street between Cordoba and Santa Fe.

On March 28th, the government of the city of Buenos Aires unfurled a gigantic image of Pope Francisco, measuring 88 by 44 metres and still present today, in the Del Plata Building, located at the intersection of Pellegrini and Sarmiento streets, a few metres from Avenida 9 de Julio.

On March 31st, the Federal Authority for Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA) issued an official declaration that all AM and FM radio stations in the country transmit an Easter message from Bergoglio at the request of the Argentine Episcopal Conference (CEA).

On April 4th, the militant pro-life Congressman of Salta, Alfredo Olmedo, presented a bill to assign the name “Papa Francisco” to National Road No. 9, from its start at General Paz avenue to its end at La Quiaca.

On April 4th, Senator Anibal Fernandez, a politician close to the national executive, acknowledged that the social climate in Argentina has changed since the inauguration of the first Argentine pope and that the legalization of abortion in the country is thus no longer likely.

On April 10th, employees of the public hospital Luis Pasteur, in the city of Chepes in La Rioja province, were amazed by the disappearance of an image of Pope Francis which had been arbitrarily installed on one of the walls of the emergency ward. This attitude was ridiculously described as “intolerant” for not respecting the beliefs of others.

On April 12th, the city council of Concepción in Tucumán province approved changing the name of the first block of Nasif Estéfano street to “Papa Francisco”.

On April 24th in Paraná Entre Ríos, the Deliberative Council of that city approved, with 14 votes in favor and one against, the changing of name of a section of Monte Caseros Street to Francis.

On April 30th, the Argentine postal servcie issued a printing of 120,000 sets of commemorative stamps to mark the beginning of the pontificate of Pope Francisco.

May 4th saw the opening in Buenos Aires of the free “papal circuit” of places that marked the life of Bergoglio, organized by the Tourism Authority of that city. Guided tours by bus and on foot officially began in the second week of May through the neighbourhood of Flores, where Bergoglio was born, and another around the Metropolitan Cathedral.

On May 6th the plenary meeting of the General Law Committee of the City Council of Salta discussed a project called City Pro-Life. The project is expected to be discussed again in the regular meeting of May 22. If approved it will be not only a reversal of rights acquired by the female gender, but also an unconstitutional act.

On May 7th various national media reported that the Papal Nuncio and the CEA have reached an agreement with the Federal Administration of Public Revenue (AFIP) to facilitate the purchase of foreign currency by youth traveling to Brazil to attend World Catholic Youth Day, chaired by the president of the Vatican. In Argentina there are strong restrictions on the acquisition of foreign currency that apply to all citizens. This plan would represent a clear affront to republican values of the Argentine State and a setback for secularism confronted by clericalism.

On May 8th, the president of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, along with Radrizzani, bishop of Lujan, delivered to the home of the President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro an image of the Virgin of Luján. The president said: “May 8 is not a special date but it happens to be the Day of Coronation of the Virgin of Luján and also today Pope Francis spoke of her and asked that she be honoured.”

On Friday May 10th, there appeared on the front of the Buenos Aires Central Market, in La Matanza, a huge poster with the image of the president greeting Francis, and above them the deceased Argentine presidents Juan Domingo Perón and Néstor Kirchner. Digital media sources said that the banner had been placed by order of the Secretary of Domestic Trade.

We militants working for secularism in Argentina will not give up and will continue to fight for a more just and egalitarian society. We will continue to denounce vigorously the advance of clericalism in state institutions. Historically in our country the privileges obtained by the Roman Catholic Church occurred during periods of dictatorship, whereas in democratic times the tendency has been towards secularism. We hope that the election of a pope from Argentina will not be transformed into a curse diverting our nation away from its natural movement towards secularization.

Fernando Esteban Lozada
Spokesperson for Latin America of International Association of Free Thought (IAFT)
Member of Argentine Coalition for a Secular State (CAEL)
President of Argentine National Congress of Atheism
Ex-president and Director of Interinstitutional Relations of Asociación Civil Ateos Mar del Plata
Member of Secular Institute for Contemporary Argentine Studie