There’s a new tour bus rolling through the streets of Buenos Aires, and it’s not passing by the traditional sites like La Boca or Recoleta. The "Papa Tour," launched Saturday, gives visitors a chance to explore another side of Buenos Aires -- the one that fostered the man who would become Pope Francis.
The three-hour bus ride takes pilgrims to the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, where the pope was archbishop from 2001 until his elevation this year, and the neighborhood of Flores, where the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born and lived with his four siblings. It also stops at Herminia Brumana Square, where he would play soccer, Solar San Antonio, where his parents met, and Institute of Our Lady of Mercy, the school he attended as a kid and took his first communion.
“We believe that those who make this journey will find not only a story of life, but also teachings and values that will form the impetus to continue to build a better society every day,” the tourism ministry wrote in the tour description.
In total, the 43-passenger bus, which is emblazoned with the sign “Papal Circuit,” stops at a 24 points of interest across eight districts that “tell the story of the life of Pope Francis.”
Some three-quarters of Argentina’s 41 million people self-identify as Roman-Catholic, though their fervor for the religion was seen as relatively low compared to other Latin American countries prior to Bergoglio’s ascension to Pope Francis.
Ever since, both domestic and foreign tourism to the capital has blossomed around religious sites and secular sites with any association to the pope’s childhood.
While Buenos Aires welcomed a total of 2.5 million foreign tourists in 2012, the city is bracing for a record year in 2013, aided, in part, by visitors from neighboring Latin American nations who are eager to learn more about the first pope from the Americas.
The tourism ministry had planned just two small group tours to the Pope Francis sites daily on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, but when more than 5,000 people signed up in the first week, it said it may have to adjust its schedules to meet the demand. For now, the tours are only scheduled to run through Dec. 30.
The government will also run two Pope Francis walking tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays: one through Flores, and the other through the Plaza de Mayo.
While anyone can show up for the walking tours, those hoping to score a coveted bus seat on the three-hour Papa Tour should email firstname.lastname@example.org.