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Buenos Aires launches tours for Argentine pope

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 15, 2013 at 2:20 pm •  Published: May 15, 2013

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — You can see the streets where he grew up and played soccer, the church where Jorge Bergoglio prayed as a teenager and the cathedral where the man who would become Pope Francis said Mass. You can even visit the stand where he bought his newspapers every weekend and where he went for a haircut.

With an Argentine on the throne of St. Peter, the South American country's capital city has launched a series of guided tours to give visitors a glimpse of the places that formed Francis, even if the bus and walking tours are just a modest, and so far non-commercial, first stab at papal tourism.

The tour bus is a single-story cruiser with sealed windows above a huge image on each side of Francis and the words "Pope Circuit" in papal yellow, which also happens to be the official color of the metropolitan government that began offering the tours last weekend.

For three hours, the bus winds through Buenos Aires twice each Saturday and Sunday and can carry about 40 passengers, rolling past 24 sites linked to the new pope, but stopping only twice and leaving little opportunity for snapshots. There's no charge for the trip, or for more limited walking tours of downtown and neighborhood sites offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"I loved the tour ... It's to live the history of Bergoglio, of his family, and I also visited his neighborhood, which I had never seen," said Alicia Perez, a 71-year-old Argentine who was one of the few non-journalists on inaugural bus tour.

The house at 531 Membrillar where the pope and four siblings grew up with his mother and father, Regina Maria Sivori and Mario Bergoglio, in the 1930s and 40s is gone now, but the bus cruises down the tree-shaded middle-class street past the property, where another dwelling was later built.

Nearby there's the little plaza where he played soccer as a boy, and the narrow, neo-classical San Jose de Flores church where he worshipped as a teenager and felt called to devote his life to God.

Visitors also see the seminary in the leafy neighborhood of Villa Devoto where Bergoglio decided to become a Jesuit priest, and the Metropolitan Cathedral, which looks more like a classical Greek temple than a typical Catholic church. Bergoglio eventually presided as the capital's archbishop in the imposing structure, which also houses the tomb of South American independence hero Jose de San Martin.

The tour also passes by the Jesuit College of El Salvador, where Bergoglio taught literature and psychology in the 1960s, and the Salvador University he later oversaw.

The tour leaves out the gritty slums where Bergoglio's church was a frequent benefactor, but there's a nod to his reputation for ministering to society's outcasts: a swing past the Devoto prison where he often said Mass on the Thursday before Easter.

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