The Roman Catholic Church has chosen a new pope and he comes from Argentina. The papacy now enters a new era with Jorge Bergoglio, Latin America's first pope and the first pontiff to come from the developing world.
The voice is quiet, the message revolutionary. "Cambia, todo cambia" - everything changes. That's what the Argentine songwriter Mercedes Soza sang in her 1994 hit. "The shepherd with his flock, the sun in its orbit, the direction of the wanderer and everything that changed yesterday, will have to change again tomorrow."
The Argentine singer's hymn was on the soundtrack of "Habemus papam," an Italian movie that played at the Cannes Film Festival last year. And now it has come true. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is the first successor of St. Peter in the papacy's history who isn't from Europe, but from Latin America.
A global church
"This choice will make us a true world church," Bernd Klaschka, head of Adveniat, the German Catholic relief organization for South America, says to DW. After all, Bergoglio's selection shows the "trust in the development of the church in Latin America." Klaschka is sure that not only Latinos, but all of the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, will quickly grow to love the new pope. "He will win them over with his self-deprecating and humble manner."
Only two weeks ago, Jorge Bergoglio was appointed to the papal commission by Benedict XVI as one of his final acts in office. The 76-year-old Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, had offered his resignation from that post to Benedict a year ago because of his age. That is also the reason why he wasn't one of the favorites in the conclave to succeed Benedict.
Critical of the Catholic Church
Bergoglio kept his distance from the Curia. But now it looks like his dauntless criticism of the Vatican's scandals brought him respect from his peers, the cardinals. The biggest problems of the church were the secularization, the sinking spirituality and its overambitious members, Bergoglio said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
Bergoglio limited his participation in the Curia to the congregations for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Clergy. In Buenos Aires, where he's been bishop since 1992, he doesn't shy away from confrontation. At the beginning of Lent, he demanded that people should "turn away from the power of money and corruption that Argentina has gotten used to," which he said would destroy families and the whole society.
Franz-Josef Overbeck, a bishop from Essen in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, links the social criticism to Bergoglio's education as a Jesuit. "As a Jesuit, he knows what it means to follow Jesus, that it means to follow the poor," Overbeck said to DW. "That's why he knows about the benefits of liberation theology, which was developed in Latin America."
More power to laymen
Klaschka, the Adveniat head, is sure that the new pope will strengthen the laity in the church. "There are parishes in Latin America with 80,000 to 90,000 members," Klaschka says. Training laity is thus "on top of the list" for Bergoglio.
In the future, parishioners will be able to celebrate Holy Communion with pre-blessed hosts - and without a priest - according to Klaschka. That vision is unthinkable in Germany as of yet. "But it's not a problem for Bergoglio," Klaschka believes. "We don't have to look at the church with such a strong focus on priests, and he knows that."
Klaschka considers the church in Latin America a pioneer in new developments. "We can learn a lot from Christians in Latin America," he says, "that life isn't just lived through the mind, but through the heart as well." Bergoglio also made that clear when he bowed on the St. Peter's Basilica's balcony right after being elected, according to Klaschka: "He didn't raise his arms; there were no authoritative gestures." But the new pope's modesty and humility don't mean he lacks assertiveness. "He's a modern man, but he knows how to lead, and you won't be able to play him," says Klaschka, who has known Bergoglio since 2007.
"Cambia, todo cambia" - Latin America's voice will now be heard in Rome.
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