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Latinos in Western Pennsylvania thrilled by pope

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 11:36 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
St. Vincent Seminary students Martinho Zevallos, a native of Peru, and Marcel Alverenge, a native of Brazil, speak about the new pope at St. Vincent Seminary near Latrobe on March 13, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
St. Vincent Seminary student Edison Arias, a native of Columbia, speaks to the media at St. Vincent Seminary near Latrobe on March 13, 2013.

Third-year St. Vincent College seminarian Marcel Alverenge viewed Wednesday's selection of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as pope as another one of God's surprises.

“He is good at doing that,” said Alverenge, 26, of Brazil.

As Pope Francis, Bergoglio becomes the first pope from South America, thrilling people of South and Central American heritage.

“I'm extremely happy,” said Monica Aveni-Ranii, 53, of Wilkins, who moved to Western Pennsylvania from Mendoza, Argentina, 25 years ago. “I've had calls from Venezuela, tons of emails. … It makes me very proud.”

Bergoglio is the first non-European to lead the church in more than 1,000 years.

The new pope comes from a country where 90 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, which made for quite a culture shock for Aveni-Ranii when she arrived in the United States.

“It was a shock to come here and see all these different religions,” she said.

The Argentine connection to Western Pennsylvania is a small one, census records show.

According to the 2010 census, Pennsylvania had 4,269 people who claimed Argentine ancestry. The Pittsburgh metro area had 593 people, and the city, 244.

The choice of Bergoglio was not a complete surprise, said Kathleen DeWalt, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

Brazil and Argentina “are both strong Catholic countries with European roots,” she said.

Bergoglio “is fairly conservative, but the reality of where he grew up is quite different than Europe and the United States,” DeWalt said.

Anthony Falcon opened his Strip District restaurant Gaucho Parrilla Argentina five weeks ago. Although he is not Catholic, he was excited for Argentina, the country from which his father hails and where his siblings were born.

“It's definitely an honor for Argentina,” said the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born Falcon, 39.

St. Vincent seminarian Mauricio Tabera was in English class when his professor stopped everything so the students could watch the announcement of the new pope.

And when Tabera, 28, a native of Colombia, saw the new pope hailed from Argentina, he could hardly contain his excitement.

“We are very far away from our countries, but we feel like this election is an opportunity to show how good people in Latin America are,” Tabera said.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.Staff writers Jennifer Reeger and Brian Bowling contributed to this report.

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