Thousands of Catholic faithful gathered on Saturday in Luján to hold mass and celebrate 10 years of Francis' papacy, as festivities in honour of the Buenos Aires-born pontiff got underway in earnest.
Slum priest José María Di Paola, better known as ‘Padre Pepe,’ issued the call to the faithful, many of whom had received help through the religious leader's Federación del Hogar de Cristo charity, which was inaugurated by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (as Pope Francis was previously known) for assisting the recovery of addicts in shantytowns.
Gathering under anti-drugs slogans and issuing a call for unity among Argentines, Di Paola led a well-attended mass in front of the famous Basilica of Our Lady of Luján, the patron saint of Argentina.
Padre Pepe is a leader of the 'villero' priest movement, so called because of their work focused on the slums that had strong backing from Bergoglio when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, before he was elected pope on 13 March 2013.
"The pope has intensified faith and called on young people to participate. The Church was a bit distant from young people and now that link is closer. It's a great job that the pope has done," said 62-year-old labourer Francisco Rolón, 62, as he attended mass on a scorching hot afternoon, with temperatures topping over 38 degrees Celsius.
Another mass will be held on Sunday inside the Basilica of Luján, the usual destination for large annual pilgrimages.
Anniversary celebrations will culminate on Monday with a mass in the capital's Metropolitan Cathedral, which has hosted the pope in the past.
Tamara Barbará, 41, president of Argentina's Afro Pastoral faithful, said she was "proud to have an Argentine pope who shows the way that disarms and builds at the same time."
If anything is missing from the first Latin American pope in history, it is a visit to his native country, said Barbará, who hopes that such a trip will take place in 2025, when the regular Afro-Latin American Pastoral Meeting will be held in Argentina.
"It would be essential that he comes to visit us to give him a nice hug, which he deserves, for what it means to be an Argentine and Latin American pope. Let him know that what he has built in these 10 years is this heart, this brotherhood," she declared.
For social worker and Catholic priest Guillermo Schefer, Francis "is a beacon, an inspiration, who will be remembered in history."
A member of the Latin American Federation of Married Priests, Schefer put the issue of sexual abuse within the Church on the Pope's 'must' side. "He took an important step, but there is still a lot to work on," he said.
"Not only forgiveness but in concrete gestures, that Francis could take action so that not only answers are sought within the Catholic institution for him and for the victims, but before the ordinary courts for the victims and for him."