Pittsburgh Argentinians thrilled with selection


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The new pope has something in common with many Western Pennsylvanians who also hail from Argentina. Many of them are excited, for varied reasons, but they are connecting with each other and family and friends over the news in part because of Argentinian pride.

You know, the same thing Pittsburghers would be doing if the pope were from Pittsburgh.

Monica Aveni-Ranii, who runs La Mendocina Argentine Catering, was shopping in the Strip District Wednesday afternoon for the food she'll serve at O'Hara Elementary's Multicultural Night tonight when her sister phoned. Ms. Aveni-Ranii said she was too busy to chat, and "she said, 'But you're not going to believe this: The pope is from Argentina!' I said, 'Get out of town!' "

The Wilkins chef's initial feeling was the thrill of, This puts Argentina back on the map. And for more than soccer, or Eva Peron, or empanadas, though she is making those. Like many native Argentinians, she shares Jorge Bergoglio's Italian heritage, so she'll also serve pasta Bolognese and dedicate it to him at tonight's event, at which "I'm going to celebrate pretty big."

Her phones kept ringing, as did those of fellow Argentinians here.

For Ernesto Contenti of the North Side, the flurry started with a friend's one-word text: "Congratulations." He had to ask, "For what?"

Mr. Contenti was born in Buenos Aires but has lived for more than 40 years here, where his company does language translation for health-care institutions. He's also president of the Coro Latinoamericano Pittsburgh choir group and the AquiTango musical group.

He was surprised -- he'd thought a cardinal from Brazil had a chance -- and excited, and tried without success to reach his very Catholic mother in Buenos Aires, whom he believes is even more familiar with the new pope's work on behalf of the poor. As the news sunk in, it was making him emotional: "This is a very moving experience."

Literally moving, too, because his sister texted him from Miami and they decided to take a trip to the Vatican this summer to wave the Argentinian flag.

University of Pittsburgh chemistry researcher Daniel Winnica (Argentinian, but his dad is Polish) said his Italian-Argentinian wife, Patricia Galetto, literally jumped at the good news (she has a priest cousin who works at the Vatican). He said he is happy, too. "It's a historical time for us," and not just Argentinians. "I shook for Latin America," he said.

"We trust that his leadership will help to unite the Americas, and guide the international community under one truth," emailed O'Hara's Josephine Oria, Med Health Services chief financial officer who with her husband, Gaston, also makes and markets La Dorita dulce de leche spread and liqueur. They were "ecstatic."

Shadyside native Sarah Solomon Stern, is the associate principal harpist in Buenos Aires' Orchestra Teatro Colon, a renowned theater that draws top conductors and musicians from around the world. In an email, she said she was at home when the announcement was made.

"As soon as I read the headlines in the NY Times, I heard a cacophony of car horns from all parts of the city," she wrote. "The Facebook traffic among the locals is going off the wall as well, and the consensus there is that everyone is mighty proud to have a Porteño pope."

Some, such as Pitt political science professor Anibal Perez-Linan, were pondering the serious stuff, such as how Pope Francis' conservatism will go over with Americans and such.

"I think the big news is not so much that he's from Argentina, but he's from a developing country in South America."

But, having just heard the "interesting" news of his election, Mt. Lebanon's Anthony Falcon was having fun and taking a Pittsburgh-centric view.

"It seems like Argentina is really on the radar lately," he said, noting that on Feb. 1 he opened Gaucho Argentinian parrilla, or grill, in the Strip District, and now this, and now he wonders, What's next?

"It comes in threes."

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Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.


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