HAMMOND | As the world learned a cardinal from Argentina would become the new head of the Catholic Church, a Hammond woman immediately recognized the name as a bishop she had met in the 1990s while living in the Latin American country.
Alejandra Keefe, of Hammond, attended two church conferences with then-Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, so the news of his election as Pope Francis came as a “shocking announcement.”
“When I saw a picture I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I was sitting next to the man discussing things,'" Keefe said. “It was very exciting for me.”
Growing up in Argentina, Keefe worked at a parish committed to the social justice movement and participated in conferences that attracted church members from across the country. The first time she met Bergoglio was at a conference in Rosario where he was part of her discussion group.
The second conference was in Buenos Aires, where Bergoglio again participated in discussions for a week. Keefe said he wasn't a presenter at the conference and just came to be with the people.
“He was a very simple man, very humble and showed humility,” Keefe said. “He did not expect anyone to treat him like he was someone special or different from the others. He participated in group discussions just like anyone else did.”
The new pope also participated in the Argentinian custom of drinking “mate," a traditional tea in the country, with conference attendees and celebrated Mass with them, Keefe said.
When Keefe moved to the United States, her friends told her Bergoglio continued to be the priest she remembers meeting 20 years ago.
“A very simple man that didn't think of himself, that worked together with the people and that was with the people and especially with the poor,” Keefe said. “When he took the name (Pope Francis,) it was basically the name that presents who he is and his work and the choices that he made in life.”