March 9, 2014
Latin America’s pontiff
By Carolina Barros, Herald staff.-
The first Jesuit, Latin American and Argentine pope ever. Sounds like another case of “God is also Argentine,” that popular saying which offers so much consolation and hope in bleak times — not to mention “the hand of God.”
But apart from the local pride in the new Pope Francis being a native of this
city, the fact that the shoes of the fisherman will now be worn by a Latin American heralds not only a new stage for the Catholic Church but a realignment within the world of this region housing over 40 percent of all Catholics.
Bergoglio is the first Latin American pope over 520 years after the Americas were first evangelized. He also stands out as a Jesuit from the Americas, from where a 1767 royal decree expelled his order from all Spanish crown lands. Rewriting history.
But also the political and spiritual worlds are — hopefully — realigned. Because Pope Francis stands to untie and reassemble the package of his own Latin America.
A bird’s eye view of the map suffices to show that the Latinos (mostly Catholic) are the first minority and a decisive electoral factor in the United States.
That in Cuba the long overdue and painstaking process of opening up the island is advancing with the aid and the commitment of the Church.
That in Central America it is the Catholic Church which is striving to counter the social ravages of advancing drug-trafficking — in the same region of Central America and the Caribbean the Church is most involved in social policies tinged with the political ideology which is a sequel of the Liberation Theology of the 1970s.
A further glance at the map suffices to note that in Brazil, it is the Catholic Church which must compete with a different advance, that of the evangelical sects, both in the mainstream population and, more recently, in the media and political worlds.
And that is not all. To this backyard identification of a continent characterized by having the world’s main producers of coca and marijuana should be added the very real perception that Latin America is one of the continents with the strongest social promotion in the last decade (just in Brazil, some 40 million have acceded to the middle class) but at the same time it still has one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor.
That social gap has also produced populist governments (including Argentina itself) which in times of debate over abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage has resulted in clashes with the Church hierarchy (involving Bergoglio himself).
The governments of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela have all confronted the hierarchy in recent years on freedom of the press, democracy and human rights’ issues.
Finally, the nomination of Francis, the first Latin American pope, comes at a time when long queues are still being formed in Caracas to pay last respects to Hugo Chávez, a man who set his stamp on an entire decade of Venezuelan and Latin American history. His would-be successors are seeking to convert him into a “secular saint” in order to sustain his cult and ensure devotion for the policies to come.
Perhaps the advent of a Latin American in the Vatican may overshadow this cult of the Bolivarian leader.
Perhaps it simply serves to show that God remembers he has an Argentine heart and, as from March 13, 2013, a most special place in the heart of 483 million Latin American Catholics as well.