PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – For over a week, Brazilians had been eagerly waiting for their moment on the international stage as the Archbishop of São Paulo, Odilo Scherer, was the front-runner leading up to the papal conclave. Dozens stared intently into their televisions, waiting for their country’s moment in the global limelight.
But when the announcement was made that the pope was from the country’s soccer rival, Argentina, some Brazilians were disappointed and upset — in a friendly rivalry kind of way, maintaining a sense of humor.
“The pope has decided not to be Francis I because an Argentinean would never have accepted being second,” tweeted Betto 'Vuohi' Böde in Brazil.
I am going to buy the Vatican to end with this farce of an Argentinean pope.
- Eike Batista, Brazilian tycoon
And in a clear shot at Argentina about the last time the country won the World Cup, @DarkRonaldo tweeted that the pope being an Argentinean was “the only international title that Argentina has received after 1986 was the papacy.”
Brazil has approximately 134 million Catholics — more than any other country in the world. That's three times the entire population of Argentina.
Scherer’s family in Brazil reportedly took the news in stride.
"I'm really just happy for the church that it's not another European," said Sherer's brother, Bruno, according to the Associated Press. "The fact that he's a Latin American is already a big step in the right direction."
Still, others were surprised – and even aghast – that the pope, formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, was from the country’s biggest regional rival. For decades, the two country’s soccer teams have been South American powerhouses on the pitch.
Of course, Brazil is still hosting the World Cup in 2014. The country is also hosting the Summer Olympics in 2016 and, though slowing down recently, it's still blessed with having one of the strongest economies in the world. Yet, even those triumphs did not seem conciliatory enough for overly proud Brazilians to lose the papacy to their next-door neighbors.
“The world is about to be over,” Brazilian Ivo Neuman tweeted. “[Lionel] Messi is the best player in the world and the pope is Argentinean.”
If they felt snubbed, Brazilian leaders took the high road. President Dilma Rousseff immediately congratulated the new pope and his country.
“In the name of Brazilians, I congratulate the Argentine people,” Rousseff said.
And perhaps the pope himself realizes how Brazilians feel and is trying to extend an olive branch. His first international trip is reportedly to Rio de Janeiro, to attend the World Youth Day celebration at the end of July.
Hurt feelings aside, at least one Brazilian community religious leader urged his countrymen to keep a big-picture perspective about the whole thing.
“It is amazing that the pope is Latin American,” said Vicente Zorzo, a Jesuit priest from the Meridional region of Brazil. “I think he is there not to take privileges, but to serve the Church and the poor.”
Luís Henrique Vieira is a freelance reporter based out of Brazil.