Longtime Friend of Pope Recalls Humor, Love of Soccer

Not everyone gets to say they are friends with the pope, but a New York priest has known him for more than 30 years.  NY1's Ruschell Boone filed the following report.

Looking at an old photo of them together Father Hernan Paredes remembers how much Pope Francis did not want to take the picture.  

"He says, 'Oh I'm not good at pictures.' And as you can see in the picture he doesn't look the best way. And now that he's the pope he's smiling all the time," he said.

Paredes was a young student and Francis was the head of the Jesuit seminary when they met in Argentina in the early 1980s.  At the time, Francis was Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Many saw Father Jorge, as they called him, as a humble man who always rode with the people or the young priests when he traveled.

"He's a man who use to ride on the subway in Argentina. As a Jesuit Superior he never said I have to have my own car. No," Paredes recalled.

He also says the pope loved to play soccer. That's right. Soccer and dominoes. He also had a great sense of humor, which has never changed.

"He's always ready to crack a joke and light your life," Paredes noted.

But they have come a long way from Argentina. Paredes' journey took him to the Bronx and Loyola School in Manhattan where he teaches. They kept in touch through e-mails and then one day Paredes got the big news: His friend became pope.

"Tears came down to me and then I shout out 'The new pope is my friend!' Thirty years of friendship, and the pictures tell more than the words that I can say," Paredes said.

He visited Francis at the Vatican recently embraced him on a papal visit to Ecuador.

"He grabbed my cheek and said, 'You are too American now,'" Paredes recalled.

Like so many New Yorkers, Father Paredes says he cannot wait to see the pontiff in the city.

He says he is happy New Yorkers are excited about the trip because he knows his friend is excited too.

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