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Argentine community sees Pope Francis as 'point of pride'

The Argentine community in the Glendale area is celebrating Pope Francis, the first Roman Catholic pope from their home county.

Pope Francis was selected Wednesday to head the church, something that wasn’t lost on the local immigrant community, even those who aren’t part of the church.

Father Dennis Marrell of St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in Pasadena said Wednesday that about half of the roughly 4,000 families who attend his church are Latino, including more than 500 people who attend a weekly Spanish-language Mass.

FULL COVERAGE: The papal conclave

“Several of them have already expressed their delight to me that someone who shares their background and has shown such concern for the poor has been chosen. All Catholics feel a special affinity with the pope, but this makes him feel much closer,” Marrell said.

Speaking in Spanish, Rene Vildoza -- owner of the Argentine restaurant El Morfi Grill in downtown Glendale -- said that while he is not a Catholic, it’s “a point of pride for the people to have a South American, especially a Latino, in this position.”

Referring to his family back in Argentina: “They are happy with it. I am happy for the people too."

PHOTOS: A new pope is chosen

The significance was not lost on Marcelo Sala, owner of 1810 Argentinean Restaurant in Pasadena. Originally from Buenos Aires, Sala, 50, said he wasn’t a devout Catholic, so to him, “personally, it’s not a big deal.”

But to have the new pope hail from his native country, “it’s definitely a good thing, because people will know more about Argentina."

Carlos Hirtz, 59, who helps run his son’s Argentine restaurant, World Empanadas, in Burbank, said that while he’s not religious, he was raised attending Catholic schools in Argentina and is happy for his home country.

INTERACTIVE: Choosing a new pope

“It’s not going to change my life, but I’m happy for him, I’m happy for Argentina,” Hirtz said.

He hopes that with an Argentine pope, more money will be sent from the Vatican to Argentina to build or support local churches.

“If he helps them, that’s good,” Hirtz said. He’d also like to see changes in the Catholic church.

“I hope this guy can be in the 20th century, not with 1800s ideals that are still with the Catholic church,” Hirtz said. “They have to be more open with the rest of the world.”

Meanwhile, he said, customers throughout the day expressed their congratulations. “I said, ‘Oh, thank you, but you need to congratulate the pope, not me.' "


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-- Jason Wells, Joe Piasecki, Daniel Siegal and Alene Tchekmedyian, Times Community News

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