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Finding Bergoglio in Buenos Aires.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA -- It's three o'clock in the afternoon at the main entrance of the Basilica of San Jose de Flores, the place where Jorge Mario Bergoglio unveiled his desire to become a priest. With not minute's delay, a bus tour starts the route along Bergoglio's life here in the capital of Argentina, the "end of the world."

Since last year, the Buenos Aires tourism agency has been offering this free three-hour circuit tracing the pope's life every Saturday Sunday and holidays. It is the only option on wheels and can be taken either at 9 a.m. or 3 p.m. with a reservation.

The city also offers two walking tours that are more particular--one through the neighborhood of Flores and the other through Monserrat--both of which are shorter, lasting just two hours with no reservation necessary They are all led by specialized guides, although the bus tour offers an audioguide system in more than 10 languages.

Buenos Aires is divided into 48 different neighborhoods, and it is in Flores where the trip aptly begins revisiting Bergoglio's life, the neighborhood of his childhood and adolescence. Located about 6 miles from Plaza de Mayo, this residential area is characterized by its narrow streets and sidewalks, colored by citrus trees and the tiny front gardens of its houses.

It was one September afternoon in 1953 when Bergoglio was supposed to meet with his friends at the Flores railway station to take a train to where they would celebrate Student's Day also marking the first day of spring. But he never showed up. On his way to the station, he felt the need to go to confession, and on that day, at the age of 17, he realized he wanted to become a priest.

The church San Jose de Flores was the first in the neighborhood, and was elevated to basilica in 1912 by Pope Pius X. Although the building has experienced extensive renovations since its construction was completed in 1883, most of its original architecture can still be appreciated today This is one of the few places in the world where, behind the altar, the image of St. Joseph is seen crowned at the center of the Holy Family painting (the only other one being in Canada). A small indoor chapel at the north transept provides a more intimate encounter with the saint's figure and is also used as a baptistery for the local community.

The route left few of Bergoglio's old stomping grounds unvisited. It began with 531 Membrillares Street, his childhood home. Unfortunately, its current owners have renovated most of its exterior into a modern style, transforming it entirely from the home Bergoglio knew as a child.

The tour then continued to the soccer field where he and his friends would regularly play his elementary school where he received his first Communion, and the Flores vicarage where he was bishop for five years and where the home for retired priests is located. It was here where Bergoglio expected to retire in 2011, a simple request Pope Benedict XVI denied.

The bus then took the tour group through the Monte Castro neighborhood to see the Technical High School 27, where Bergoglio earned his first academic degree, as a chemistry technician--reason enough for his mother to assume her firstborn would pursue medicine.

Against her wishes, he told her he would be a "soul healer" after she discovered that, instead of medical texts, he had been reading the Bible and other religious books.

The Villa Devoto neighborhood is where 22-year-old Bergoglio entered the Metropolitan Seminary of Buenos Aires for about two years before deciding to join the Jesuits, attending the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Chile for another two years.

This district would also be the place where Padre Jorge would begin some of his priestly duties, such as visiting the capital's prison, where he would preside at Holy Thursday Masses.

The popularity of the devotion for Mary the Undoer of Knots arrived in Argentina after Bergoglio's trip to Germany in the 1980s, and the image can be found at the San Jose del Talar Church in the Agronomia neighborhood. On the eighth of every month, this small shrine--inaugurated in 1939--receives thousands of pilgrims curious to see the image, in which Mary, surrounded by angels, is undoing the knots that represent the challenges of human life.

Weaving through the Almagro neighborhood, the tour double-dipped his parents' love story and his love for sports. Mario Francisco Bergoglio and Regina Maria Sivori first met at the San Antonio Church--the same place where the pope's favorite soccer club, San Lorenzo, was founded and named after Salesian priest Lorenzo Massa. Once he became archbishop, Bergoglio requested the club's authorities to build a small chapel next to the stadium where the church members could pray

Moving from childhood landmarks, the tour then delved into Bergoglio's work and legacy, starting with the University of Salvador, one of the best-known Jesuit schools in Buenos Aires, its buildings peppered throughout the city Here he taught literature and psychology in the 1960s, and by 1973 was named the school's superior.

At the university's rectory one of the four reproductions of the Undoer of Knots paintings that Bergoglio commissioned is located. The other two can be found at the Government Palace and in the Vatican.

In 1998, Bergoglio moved to the San Nicolas neighborhood, where the Chancery Metropolitan Cathedral and Government Palace are located. These historical places gather around the Plaza de Mayo square--the epicenter of the Buenos Aires identity--and it was here where the archbishop was living in 2013, right up until he was named Pope Francis.

The bus tour turned into a walking tour, where passengers were invited to continue retracing the Bergoglio experience on foot along the historical and picturesque streets at the heart of Buenos Aires. Through its pedestrian and cobbled streets, at every corner, this neighborhood unites a variety of architectural styles from several epochs, from the colonial times to modern day.

The first place where the tour guide stopped was, surprisingly, a newsstand. It was from this kiosk where Bergoglio received his daily newspaper. After his election, the pope called the stand's owner, Daniel, from the Vatican to say hi and to ask that he stop delivering his paper.

Two blocks later, the tour reached the San Ignacio de Loyola Chapel--one of the oldest buildings in the city, built on behalf of the Jesuits--and the Sagrado Corazon School. Together, they make up what is known as the Manzana de las Luces, or "Lights Square." It could be considered a perfect time machine, as its buildings preserve most of its original facades from the 17th century.

The tour then reached the St. Francis of Assisi Basilica, which belongs to the Franciscan order that accompanied the city's founder, Juan de Garay, in 1580. The exterior of the church, completed in 1911, displays an elaborate German baroque style. However, in line with the saint's humility, the basilica is characterized by its austere ornamentation and unique nave. The high altar, destroyed in a 1955 fire, was replaced with a huge tapestry that reflects St. Francis' life.

There is not one place throughout this neighborhood that doesn't show Bergoglio's influence. Shops and markets at every corner proudly display pictures of Padre Jorge posing with the shop owners before he became pope. Such is the case of the Roverano Barber, where Bergoglio got his hair cut for many years.

Francis is not one who relishes his story being told. But he was a part of the city a citizen of Buenos Aires long before he became the bishop of Rome. Though the tour highlighted 23 remarkable places, it could have lasted hours longer, retelling anecdotes of the pope's early days, of his life in the city that saw him grow, make friends, and discover his vocation.

[Catalina Cepparro is a freelance writer in Buenos Aires.]

Caption: A plaque marks the house where Jorge Bergoglio was born.

Caption: Inside the Basilica of San Jose de Flores

Caption: The primary school attended by Bergoglio

Caption: The San Jose de Flores confessional where Bergoglio decided to become a priest

Caption: The Roverano Barbershop, where Bergoglio got his hair cut for many years


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Title Annotation:TRAVEL; Jorge Mario Bergoglio's place in Argentina
Author:Cepparro, Catalina
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:3ARGE
Date:Nov 20, 2015
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