Buenos Aires launches papal-themed tours

2013-05-13 12:22

Buenos Aires - It's not your average cross-town city bus: the new Papa Tour of Buenos Aires is packing them in for a nostalgic swing past local landmarks in the life of the man who became Pope Francis.

Just hours before Pope Francis created the first saints of his papacy Sunday, canonizing some 800 Italian martyrs who refused to convert to Islam in the 15th century, the Papa Tour (Pope Tour) started rumbling for the first time around the hometown of the former Jorge Bergoglio.

"I don't think all this fervor is something fleeting. I think that since he has been pope, he has brought a lot of people back to the Church," said Daniela Peralta, a 21-year-old theology student.

About 75 percent of Argentina's 40 million people self-identify as Roman Catholic. But compared with many Latin American countries, its fervor index was seen as fairly low prior to Bergoglio's rise to Rome.

Peralta, who already has tickets for the World Youth Day event the pope will lead in Rio de Janeiro next month, was among those who crammed the free bus tours sponsored by the Tourism Ministry.

The ministry, which planned to take fewer than 100 people on the trip two days a week, saw a rush of more than 5,000 sign up in the first week, and is adjusting its schedules to meet demand.

With some of His Holiness's favorite tangos playing in the background, the 43-seat buses swing by the pope's birthplace in the Flores neighborhood, and follow in his footsteps at the Metropolitan Cathedral, where he used to say mass as archbishop before he was named to replace the late Benedict XVI.

Mabel Roggero, a 43-year-old religion teacher, was among the lucky ones on the inaugural three-hour tour, along with her husband Daniel, daughter Cristal, 12, and son Maximo Benedicto, seven.

"I was actually with (Jorge) Bergoglio on many occasions because he delivered the masses when I went on spiritual retreats as a catechist," Roggero told AFP.

"When I heard that he had been chosen as pope I said 'Good God, what have you done! And I started crying. I suppose God had him ready for the job."

She recalled the very humble Bergoglio arriving "on the city bus, with the same black overcoat and beat-up briefcase he had in Rome," at the conclave where he was selected as pontiff.

"He has a really special charisma, and is able to bring the Church closer to people, when it is so absent for so many, and in so many families," she said.

Outside St Joseph's Basilica in Flores, the guide explained that it was here "in the last confessional on the left, that as a child, Jorge Bergoglio, had a spiritual awakening that led him to the priesthood."

Also on the list of 21 highlights: the home where the pontiff grew up, the plaza where he played soccer (football), the St Anthony School he attended and where his parents, Francisco Bergoglio and Regina Sivori, met in the Almagro district.

Asked about why Francis seems to have made a strong early mark on believers, Peralta's friend theology student Fernando Lezcano, 24, said it has a lot to do with his warm Latin personality -- "nothing like Benedict XVI," his German predecessor.

"Benedict did not really get through to people, and this guy won people over in about a week," said retired teacher Graciela Marco, 76. "But we in Argentina are not surprised by the things he does. He's a little saint."

Read more on:    travel international

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