New pope: Francis opens new era for Latin American Catholics
Catholic experts said the selection of Francis was a brilliant choice that recognized the locus of the global church has shifted from Europe to the Southern Hemisphere.
The selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina to lead the Roman Catholic Church ushered in an era of firsts.
He is the first pope from the Americas. And he is the first pope who shares the mother tongue of Latin Americans — Pope John Paul II spoke fluent Spanish, but with the accent of someone who was not a native speaker, and Pope Benedict XVI spoke it more haltingly.
Two-thirds of Catholics live in the south and their concerns are markedly different than those elsewhere, said Father Thomas Rausch of Loyola Marymount University.
“It’s very significant that they’ve elected a Latin American, someone outside Europe, who can represent the part of the church that is so different from the West,” Rausch said. “There will certainly be great rejoicing in Latin America. Everyone is hoping he has the vision to move the church in a new direction.”
While Catholics in the United States might focus on gay rights, contraception and women priests, Latin Americans are concerned about such issues as poverty, global capitalism, the loss of faith and the rise of Pentecostalism, Rausch said. He added that it was significant the new pope is not simply a Vatican bureaucrat or scholar but a man who has served in Buenos Aires and in places like Cordoba, one of the poorest cities in Argentina. He also participated in episcopal conferences held by Latin American bishops, who asserted that the church should focus on the poor, said Father Allan Figueroa Deck, a Latin American specialist at Loyola Marymount University.
Rausch added that the pope’s commitment to the needy was also signaled by his choice of the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi – known as “the Poverello,” or “little poor man.”
Deck added that Pope Francis would serve as a bridge between Europe and Latin America, just as his native country of Argentina has.
“It’s a very important development and it’s been a long time coming,” Deck said. “The seeds of Christianity that was planted 500 years ago in the Americas are finally manifesting themselves in the leadership of the church at the highest level.”
-- Teresa Watanabe
Photo: Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels after the selection of an Argentine cardinal to become the Roman Catholic Church's pope. Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina is now Pope Francis. Credit: Kevork Djanszian / Getty Images