With his election last week, Francis, 76, became the first pope ever from Latin America and the first Jesuit to hold the post. Despite questions about his past, including his role in Argentina’s Dirty War, and his conservative social positions, his modesty and humble ways have made him a popular figure here. Everybody seems to have a story about spotting the low-key cardinal on the subway or seeing him doing his own shopping. Local media reported that his two special guests at the ceremony in Rome were a garbage recycler and a school teacher.
In Buenos Aires, the ceremony often seemed like a laconic sports match. Sausage and coffee vendors kept the sleepy crowds fueled. The red-and-white banner of the San Lorenzo soccer team, which Francis is a fan of, shared space with Argentine and Vatican flags.
Graciela Ojeda, 46, arrived eight hours before the 5:30 am ceremony to beat the other faithful for a spot in the grass in the central plaza.
“We already have the best soccer players in the world and now we have a pope,” she said, as she kept an eye on the telecast from Rome. “Argentines have a reputation for being arrogant but how can we not feel proud about this?”
At about 3:30 am local time, church officials patched through a phone call from the pope to the crowd.
“Dear sons and daughters, I know you have gathered in the square. I know that you are saying prayers, I need them very much,” he said, sparking a round of applause. “I want to ask a favor of you. I want to ask for us to walk together, to care for one another, for you to care for each other.”
As dawn broke, families were sprawled on the lawn in front of the presidential palace, and vendors of pope-themed mugs, key-chains and flags poked through the crowds. It was often difficult to know who was deep in prayer and who was sleeping.
As the ceremony ended, the crowds broke out into chants of “Long live the Pope!”