04/25/2013, 00.00
ARGENTINA - LEBANON
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The pope of the poor: visiting Card Bergoglio's flat in Buenos Aires

by Fady Noun
On a pastoral visit to Latin America, Patriarch Rai went to see Pope Francis's old flat when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. He saw the crucifix the pope used to kiss when he went in and out of his bedroom, which had no TV or air conditioning. The patriarch is currently on a visit that focuses on the pastoral care of millions of people of Lebanese origin who for over a century have lived in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The lack of vocations is a challenge for foreign missions. Pictures follow at the end.

Buenos Aires (AsiaNews) - "A man drunk with God", the title (from the French) of the classic biography of Saint Sharbel by Fr Paul Daher, spontaneously comes to mind when listening to those who were close to Pope Francis when he was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires.

We are in the Archbishop's Palace in the Argentine capital. Thanks to a special concession and led by Episcopal Vicar Mgr Joaquin Succunza, the Maronite Patriarch, Card Beshara Rai (pictured), was able to visit the flat where the former archbishop lived: his bedroom, private chapel and office. Télé-Lumière, a Lebanese Christian TV network, was allowed to tape this exclusive visit.

Well-stocked bookcases stand behind the pope's desk. The bedroom has all the basic comforts, including a non-descriptive bed, but no TV or air conditioning. There is also a small private chapel. Together, they constituted the private quarters of the archbishop of Buenos Aires.

This explains why moving to Rome was such a trying experience, and why he chose not to live in the papal apartments on the second floor of the Apostolic Palace, but chose instead the humbler Santa Marta House.

Visitors who enter the bedroom are welcomed by a picture of Thérèse of Lisieux. Everything is there. The 'Little Way' that one of the most beloved figures of holiness in the modern world chose is also the one the pope chose for himself, a holiness that includes simple gestures and hidden heroism.

It was the archbishop's habit, when he came in and out of the room, to kiss the crucifix that hangs on the wall against a velvet background. On that same wall, visitors can see the impression left by the pope's hand as he kissed the cross.

On a shelf stands a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, a model of poverty, simplicity and evangelical joy. The pope, who went to confession every week, modeled himself on this saint.

According to his staff, when the archbishop left for the conclave, he did so with a heavy heart, as someone who was saying goodbye, someone who knew that he would never see again the dear place where he used to rest.

After visiting the archbishop's home, the patriarch went to Buenos Aires Cathedral, one of the few churches that allow donkeys inside. Unheard of elsewhere, in the building visitors can see a life-size statue of Jesus riding the humble beast as he entered Jerusalem.

The Maronite Patriarch is in Argentina as part of a pastoral visit to Latin America, home to many expatriates of Lebanese origin, most of whom arrived at the end of the 19th century and settled well into their new countries. In Brazil, more than eight million people claim Levantine origin, from places like Turkey, Syria or Mount Lebanon.

Substantial minorities of Lebanese descent, mostly Christians, also live in Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and, more recently, Venezuela.

Spending three days in San Miguel de Tucuman, the patriarch met local bishops and superiors of religious orders to coordinate pastoral work and vet the opportunity of establishing new parishes.

The latter requires the creation of new missions, a task made that more complicated by the lack of vocations and by a preference among candidates for missions for the English-speaking world, where everything is easier.

When he travels, the head of the Maronite Church usually meets local civil authorities, and gets to know people, networking with them. He does the same with local heads of other Eastern Churches, thus boosting ecumenism and cooperation.

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