Argentina's slum priests hope for papal Mass at pope's favorite soccer stadium

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (OSV News) -- An Argentine priest who works with the country's poorest and most vulnerable people is hopeful that Pope Francis will visit the community during a proposed trip to the pontiff's homeland later this year.

Father Pedro Cannavó, who was ordained by the then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio over 15 years ago, is one of the so-called "slum priests" or "curas villeros" working in the Argentine capital.

"A visit by Pope Francis would be the best that could happen to us," Father Cannavó told OSV News.

Pope Francis, 87, was invited to visit his native country earlier this year by President Javier Milei.

"You well know that you do not need an invitation to come to Argentina. At the risk of saying the unnecessary, I invite you to visit our beloved country, according to the dates and places indicated to us, keeping in mind the general desire of our cities, provinces and towns counting on your presence and sending you their filial affection," the president said in the letter dated Jan. 8.

Sources have indicated that the pope is considering visiting in November, the first time he will return to Buenos Aires since his election to the papacy in 2013.

Father Cannavó said that the visit will depend on the pope's health. "But if he does come, it's here -- to these neighborhoods, where he will be the most comfortable and feel the most welcome," he told OSV News during a visit to the sprawling parish of Mary Mother of the People, in the shadows of the Estadio Pedro Bidegain -- home of Francis' favorite soccer team Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro.

Father Cannavó said such a visit will mean everything to local people, many of whom are poor migrants from Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile.

"Here, no one reduces him to politics," Father Cannavó said of the pope. "For everyone here, he is the best thing that's ever happened to Argentina."All of us priests who do this ministry of working and living in the slums would love to host him. But I think we have a better chance because here, he could say Mass in the San Lorenzo stadium!"

Bishop Darío Quintana Muñiz, prelate of Cafayate, and a member of the Argentine bishops' conference told OSV News he was hopeful that the pope will come. However, he said that it will depend on the pontiff's health given that the proposed trip to Argentina comes after a grueling visit to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore proposed for Sept. 2-13 and the monthlong synod of bishops in October.

- - - Michael Kelly, who writes for OSV News from Dublin, traveled to Argentina for OSV News with the Pontifical Mission Societies-USA.