Saturday, 16 March 2013

Habemus Papam Latinoamericanum*

Re-mapping the Church
* I don't know that this is a Latin word, I kind of made it up!

Who says 'north' goes at the top?
Wow, what a month for Latin America.  The Falklands referendum result isn't much of a surprise.  And it maybe shouldn't have, given his long battle with cancer, but Chavez's death has shocked not only his nation of Venezuela but a continent 'swept pink' (less red than Castro) by his  brand of Latin American socialism.  To whom will the presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Nicaragua look now?  But the big news is the first non-European Pope in a millennium  and the first ever from the Americas.

Sarah and I were glued to the TV news, excited to know if the next Bishop of Rome and leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics might be Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer.  Following the white smoke, commentators and pundits seemed sure it was Cardinal Scola, an Italian.  And then the announcement ... a moment to compute ... a Gaucho Pope!

Well, I think it's great news.  We'll have to wait and see what emerges about Pope Francis's alleged collusion with the military Junta of Buenos Aires in the 1970s and '80s.  It was indeed a Dirty War, one in which the Church's role is much disputed.

The new Pontiff's humility has been much vaunted in the media, and by the sounds of it with great reason.    He has already called for a 'poorer church'.  When elected as a cardinal, he requested that his compatriots not fly off to Rome but give the money to the poor.  A great user of public transport, he preferred to live in an apartment rather than an apostolic palace, and cook for himself or to eat in simple kitchens, including homeless shelters.  

(Since when did apostles have palaces, anyway?!)

Re-mapping global Christianity?
But for me, one of the greatest things about an Argentinian pope is the fairness of representation.  Democracy isn't really the word for church leadership choices, but surely when Latin America has over 40% of the world's RCs, and Europe has less than a quarter, with a clear majority of Catholics living in the Two Thirds World, a non-European pope is long overdue?

There has to be change in light of this global shift.  Europe has not been the heart of the Christian Church for a long time.  How long can structures remain unchanged, with so many Italian cardinals and so few from continents with growing, dynamic congregations?  (Obvious implications for the Anglican Communion, also!)

Catholic, Protestant or Dissenter, we have to move on.  The candlesticks have been moved around (Rev. 1-2), the growth of the church globally is creating new centres of gravity, new forces, new motion.  'We' (Europeans, WASPs, white middle-class males) cannot and should not represent the church in all its glorious technicolour.

We have to be open to learning from our sisters and brothers outside the West, in the Southern Hemisphere, their theological books will have to be translated into English and German from Spanish, Bembe, Tagalog.  We have to read scripture with fresh eyes, and ask for help to see around the Western, modernist lens we're blind to.  We need the humility to ask 'How is it our churches are shrinking and yours are growing?'  And, dare I say it, we need to get over this idea that somehow we know best and other cultures are lagging behind in their pre-modern values and ethics.  
So, wishing Pope Francis I all the very best, and with great optimism for his ministry, it is less the personality that excites me, and more the enormous precedent this sets for fuller participation of cultures other than Europe and North America in leading the Church of Christ.  Church of the 'poor', minister to us in the West!  We need you! 


  1. Hello,
    I visited your blog.
    Congratulations for your work!! An interesting and nice blog!!
    Good luck with your blog!
    Greetings from Algarve, Portugal
    Paulo Gonçalves

    I invite you to visit my blog

    1. Thank you, Paulo, obrigado! I'll have look at your blog. You're welcome to visit here any time :)