Hitting home: Pope Francis has an impact on his native Argentina

Inspiring news, from CNS: 

Maria Delamonica spoke somewhat sourly of the state of affairs in Argentina, where the economy is teetering and politics are polarized. But her voice brightened when the topic turned to Pope Francis and the changes in the country since he was unexpectedly elected one year ago.

“There’s been a revolution,” said Delamonica, a 20-something Catholic who works as a quality control manager in a food processing plant.

She cited changes such as friends showing an interest in their faith, once-fierce church critics keeping their comments in check and people acting a little less ostentatiously — copying, in some way, the pope’s austere example.

“Even my parents started going to church again,” she said.

Revolution may overstate the reality in Argentina, and the size and scope of any changes remain relative. The lasting impact also remains uncertain. But Argentines have embraced the election of Pope Francis — to the point that parents began naming babies “Francisco” in large numbers, priests report increased parish attendance and the previously antagonistic president and her supporters act as if he were an ally.

Opinions are split on whether enthusiasm is as much about patriotism and pride as it is spiritual renewal and people re-embracing religion, but its impact has gone beyond the spiritual realm.

“He brought a lot of hope to Argentina because he was elected during a time of great pessimism,” said Jose Maria Poirier, publisher of the Catholic magazine Criterio.

The pope has brought people back into church pews, priests said, while thousands of Argentines signed up for trips to World Youth Day last year in Brazil. Participation in pilgrimages celebrating Our Lady of Lujan, the national patroness, also increased.

“People now want to return to the church,” said Guillermo Galeano, spokesman for the Diocese of Lomas de Zamora in suburban Buenos Aires.

“There are many more people confessing,” said Father Jose Maria Ruiz Diaz, who hears confessions at the St. Benedict the Abbot Parish in the upscale Belgrano neighborhood.

Others see signs the surge in church interest was short-lived.

“After the election … many people took an interest in the church, and the perception (of the church) also perhaps changed,” said Father Carlos “Charly” Olivero, one of the 23 priests working in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

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