BUENOS AIRES – The Flores district of Buenos Aires remembers Francis as a little boy running around the streets, a youth pondering his vocation, a priest very close to the people of the neighborhood, his neighborhood, the one that saw him born and which, five years after he was elected pope, never loses hope that Father Jorge will return to his hometown.
Located on the west side of the Argentine capital, Flores, a neighborhood of middle class workers, founded by immigrants and with no tourist attractions in sight, saw its usual peace and quiet shattered that March 13, 2013, when around the world resounded the words, “Habemos papam.”
“People ran from the street into the church. Bells began to ring. A lady hugged me and said ‘Bergoglio is the pope!’” recalled Luis Avellaneda, secretary of San Jose Basilica in Flores, the church where the pontiff went throughout his youth until he embraced the religious life.
It was right there, in a confessional a few steps from the door, that Jorge Mario Bergoglio felt that God was calling him, a place where for the past five years tourists and the faithful have made pilgrimages to try to understand – by means of “little details,” as Avellaneda calls them – how an ordinary man came to occupy the papacy of St. Peter.
Avellaneda told EFE that, after some “hectic months of massive visits” to the church, everything has now quieted down a little, though people keep coming to learn “the details of his story” and to see the place that marked a turning point in the personal and priestly life of Bergoglio.
The recently restored basilica is a must-see, must-visit element of the “papal tour,” organized by the Buenos Aires city government for tourists, who buy, as souvenirs, stamps, stickers and books featuring Pope Francis from the store next-door.
“He came to our parish a lot, he played with the kiddies, one felt very comfortable with him... he’s very much loved,” said Carmen Magdalena Garcia, who lives in Flores.
In the church that is a basic part of a neighborhood where practically everybody knows each other, the parishioners feel “pride” to have someone so close to them become pontiff of the Catholic Church, and can’t get over the way foreigners keep coming in search of the “spiritual footprints” of Francis.
“But I’m crazy wanting him to come back!” cried Carmen from the heart of the pope’s old neighborhood.