Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Argentine pope and Borges and a building inspired by Dante's "Divine Comedy"

Our new pope, Francis, is from Argentina and is the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

I say "our pope" because I'm a cradle Catholic, attended Catholic School and received all the sacraments in the church, except for holy orders and extreme unction (I'm holding off on that last one). But because I'm a Liberal and don't go to church, I'm usually considered a cultural Catholic or a lapsed Catholic or not a Catholic at all. Listening to NPR during this popapalooza, a conservative caller agreed that the new pope should adopt a zero tolerance policy on sexual predators. But she went on to say that the new pope should also adopt a zero tolerance policy for Liberal Catholics who criticize the church. People like me.

No matter my Catholic status, I'm pleased that the new pope is from a country other than a European one. I know very little about Argentina. I know that the great writer Jorge Luis Borges was an Argentine, as is Manuel Puig ("Kiss of the Spider Woman") and Julio Cortazar, the "modern master of the short story." Alfonsina Storni was a great modernist poet from Argentina. She's the character in the song Alfonsina y el Mar, based on Alfonsina's suicide by walking into the sea. The country has a great literary tradition. In fact, retired writers with at least five books get a special pension from the government. I was ready to pack my bags for Buenos Aires when I discovered that you have to actually be from Argentina and write in Spanish or one of the native languages to qualify. Que?

I wish American writers got literary pensions. We are, after all, part of Mitt Romney's 47 percent. We just take verbs and nouns with no thought of ever giving them back. I'd be happy to give them back if I could find a publisher.

Did you know that here is a building in Buenos Aires inspired by Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy." You can take a look at it here. I don't know of a single American skyscraper inspired by a literary classic.

Argentina was also site of "the dirty war" of the 1970s in which the ruling junta was responsible for the 30,000 "disappeared." The church was criticized for its cozy relationship with the generals whose death squads were murdering at will.

From a story in the Digital Journal:
"We have much to be sorry for," Father Ruben Captianio told the New York Times in 2007. "The attitude of the Church was scandalously close to the dictatorship to such an extent that I would say it was of a sinful degree." Read more:
Read still more on this subject in The Guardian.

I wish Pope Francis a long life. Let's hope he has time to read, and to ponder his role in his country's past.      

1 comment:

RobertP said...


My friends at Latino Rebels have also been looking at his part in Argentina's Dirty War. Seems clear that he was not an active collaborator, but certainly did not stand up to the government and thus to some extent, like many other Argentinian's, to some extent abetted the violence.