TOLEDO, Brazil — Bitter rivals in soccer. The butt of one another’s biting jokes. The samba versus the tango.
Brazil and its neighbor Argentina are bitter rivals in just about everything.
But now, in the realm of religion at least, Argentina has supremely passed the giant next door.
The Wednesday election of Pope Francis, formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, put the country a step ahead of Brazil when it comes to holy matters.
The dagger in Brazil’s heart? The fact that for a week leading up to the conclave at the Vatican where the globe’s cardinals gathered to choose the pontiff, Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer was touted as a front-runner.
Despite that, most Brazilians said that it was great the new pope was Latin American, even if — gulp! —he’s coming from its biggest regional rival.
“We can’t question such a decision, even if we have a strong rivalry between Brazil and Argentina,” said Suelen Roos, a waitress at the Quincas cafe in Toledo, where Scherer was raised. “This isn’t soccer, after all. We can’t think like soccer hooligans, we must think like good Christians.”
More Catholics live in Brazil than any other nation. The 124 million Catholics in Brazil is a figure three times larger than Argentina’s entire population.
Scherer’s brother Bruno, moments after the new pope was revealed to not be his brother, sat quietly by himself in a plaza behind the main church in the Scherer family’s small hometown of Toledo in southern Brazil, just 60 miles from the Argentine border.
“I’m really just happy for the church that it’s not another European,” he said. “The fact that he’s a Latin American is already a big step in the right direction.”
In Sao Paulo, where Odilo Scherer serves as archbishop, his right-hand clergyman Edmar Peron, the auxiliary bishop, said the choice for the new pope was a surprise.
“I had never heard of him. I was not frustrated that Dom Odilo was not elected and I felt a certain tranquility when I learned that the new pope is an Argentine,” he said. “Of course, Brazilian Catholics dreamed of having a pope who was born here.”