On March 13, when the world learned the new pope was from Argentina, Father Jose Luis Quijano was in prayer with a few of his parishioners in a small, dusty town in the province of Buenos Aires.
"Cote" was praying for whomever the new pope would be, with no expectation that his former boss, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, would be the new papal eminence. I haven't talked to my cousin-in-law since the announcement, but he told the Mormon Times, via my wife, Patricia, who edits OKEspanol.com, that he felt "great emotion."
“He is a Latin American pope, a Jesuit pope, an Argentine pope,” Quijano said. “He is a strong symbol of change in the church. I received the news with a lot of hope.”
Having priests in the family brings its own benefits. Cote and my other priestly in-law, Father Hernan Quijano Guesalaga, officiated over my daughters' baptisms in the upscale Recoleta church in downtown Buenos Aires. Hernan has a small parish by the Parana river, in the luscious green landscape of Entre Rios.
Both men fit within the conservative traditions of the Argentine Catholic church. As a non-practicing Anglican, I was always drawn to the romantic notion of dedicating oneself to God. I visited a seminary and admired the normalcy of the young would-be priests as they played soccer on a dirt field, a life of denial and an extraordinary spiritual journey awaiting them.
When I watched some of those same young men walk into Sante Fe Cathedral for a mass to celebrate their ordination, I was struck by how the sun blessed their features as they entered, some with their heads bowed as if examining the next steps for pitfalls, others with their eyes all but closed in ecstasy, their faces raised to the ceiling.
In their passion, in their resolve to embrace the cloth, they reminded me of Father Carlos Mugica, a polemical figure in the recent history of the Argentine Catholic Church. From a privileged background, he lived and worked in the shanty towns that fringe Buenos Aires, but his attempts to balance left-wing politics and faith in the bloodstained 1970s of the military dictatorship ultimately led to him being gunned down by a paramilitary operative working for the government.
The new pontiff, as Cote noted, is a Jesuit, which connotes a voice for the marginal, the outsiders, the outcast. But Pope Francis is also a stern advocate against gay marriage and abortion.
The Argentine Catholic Church's links to the military dictatorship, a subject of much controversy ever since the end of the Falklands/Malvinas war, have received international attention with the new pope's election. Argentines take pleasure in basking in any international attention that comes their way, but Pope Francis raises both intriguing questions about the future of the global Catholic Church—just how far will it reflect his own values of austerity and dedication to the poor and marginalized?—and Argentina's recent past.
While other countries may be hoping that Pope Francis brings his reputed political skills to bear in healing the rifts in the church caused by sex abuse scandals, Argentina's view of the new pontiff will be both nuanced and complex, with the tragedies and dark mysteries of the 1970s perhaps never far away.