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New pope: A shift from Europe to Latin America [Video Discussion]

March 14, 2013 |  1:51 pm

Catholic experts said the selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina to lead the Roman Catholic Church shows a shift from  Europe to the Southern Hemisphere.

The Times will host a video chat at 2 p.m. with reporter Teresa Watanabe and experts discussing the issue. You can ask questions and make comments.

FULL COVERAGE: Election of a pope 

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.”