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In Queens' 'Little Argentina,' dreams of a surprise visit by Pope Francis

In Queens' 'Little Argentina,' dreams of a surprise visit by Pope Francis
In a section of Queens known as "Little Argentina," shop owners hoped for a surprise visit from the Argentine pope when he arrived in New York. (Vera Haller/Los Angeles Times)

Not far from Kennedy Airport, where Pope Francis' plane would soon touch down, members of New York's Argentine community hoped against hope that the pontiff would stop for a visit.

In the corner of Queens known as "Little Argentina," several shop owners had decorated their windows with "Welcome Pope Francis" murals in English and Spanish.

At many establishments, TVs were tuned in to live coverage of the pope's visit.

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Marcello Civelli, whose family owns El Gauchito restaurant and butcher on Corona Avenue, said he and other community leaders had appealed to local politicians and priests, hoping to get "Little Argentina" on the pope's New York itinerary.

Official efforts were unsuccessful, but they still hoped for a surprise stop. "We're expecting people to pass by later just in case," Civelli said around lunchtime.

Civelli said Argentines are "very proud" of the pope. "He shows what Argentinians are like. We are humble," he said.

Argentine pride runs strong in the area, where the fire hydrants are painted blue and white, like the country's flag, said Christian Gimenez, who owns Rio Del Plata Bakery across the street from El Gauchito.

Throngs of Argentine supporters filled Corona Avenue during the 2014 World Cup, he said, showing photos of a sea of blue-and-white jerseys.

One soccer fan even dressed up as Pope Francis, Gimenez said.

Asked what he would serve Pope Francis if he did stop by, Gimenez pointed to a basket of medialuna pastries -- sweet, fragrant crescents that look like small croissants.  

Would they remind the pope of his home? "Yes," he said. "But they are better than the ones in Argentina!"

(This reporter, who sampled one, can confirm that they are delicious.)

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