For many, it was a stunning turn of events. Pope Benedict XVI announced that he was resigning effective February 28, and while the scramble is on to ponder who will replace him, others took the chance to remark on Benedict XVI and his resignation.
“His decision to resign is a beautiful, Christ-like act of humility and love for the Church,” says Reverend José H. Gomez, the first Latino Archbishop of Los Angeles as well as the highest-ranking Hispanic bishop in the United States. ”This is the act of a saint, who thinks not about himself but only about the will of God and the good of God’s people. In my opinion, he is one of the wisest persons in our world today.”
Carmen Aguinaco, president of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry, felt that the Pope made the right decision in resigning. “It was a really good idea, very courageous and humble action to take,” she says. “By the Pope stepping down he is saying that he trusts the Church to continue without him.”
Most of Latin America, 73 percent, is Catholic. The 432 million Catholics in Latin American account for more than 39 percent of the world’s Catholic population. In the United States, Latinos account for nearly a third of all Catholics over 40 and an astounding nearly 50 percent of Catholics under age 40.
Aguinaco says she would love to see a Hispanic Pope one day. “It would be great to have a Latino Pope since the Latino population is growing,” she says. “A new Pope who understand(s) the Hispanic community and their struggles.”
But naturally, many pivot to the values they would like to see a new Pope espouse. Call to Action (CTA), a Catholic Church justice organization, says they would like to see a more welcoming Vatican.
“We pray with concern for the church, too, for a new pope who will put people before policies, will choose inclusivity rather than exclusion, and ensure the love of Christ is paramount to its way of leadership,” it said in a statement.
David Saavedra, co-president of the CTA national board, said many believe the Church has become too conservative and hung up on rules, guidelines and doctrines.
“Their stance is very much not in favor of the LGBT community,” he says. “I have a son who happens to be gay and he doesn’t feel welcome in the Catholic Church. What the Church is missing right now is the pastoral side of dealing with people. Their relationship with parishioners is not at the top of the list.”
Saavedra says in South Texas where he is from, the community is 85 percent Hispanic and there is a reluctancy to speak up and challenge Church authority. “With the stance on homosexuality and divorced people who can’t receive communion — all of those guidelines exclude people,” he says. “I don’t think that’s what we’re called to do.”
But Timothy Matovina, Executive Director of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, says while members of the Latino community have opinions on social and moral issues, he has seen that it is largely concerned with issues that hit closer to home.
“The deeper desire is for the Church to be on mission,” Matovina says, giving examples such as how the Church can better serve immigrant youth that it’s not reaching, how it can better fund the Hispanic ministry, and create more Hispanic leaders. “People working out there in those parishes have desperate needs — like health care, undocumented status and at risk teens. Their concern is how can we help communities who need it most?”
Matovina explained what a Latino Pope would mean to Hispanics across the globe. He gave the example of Pope John Paul II, who was the first non-Italian Pope in more than 450 years. “Polish people had a special connection with Pope John Paul II,” he says. “Same thing with Benedict and Germans. A Hispanic Pope would appeal to Spanish-speaking Latinos the world over.”
While he said no U.S. Latino would likely be picked because there are no Latino Cardinals, he offered a story of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, of Honduras, who spoke at a national meeting of Latino youth at Notre Dame University.
“They brought him in and he was electrifying,” Matovina says. “Here was a Cardinal from Latin America — and he’s one of them. He said in Honduras they miss the people who have left to the U.S. ’We miss you everyday. We minister for the families who weep for you, we dry their tears,’ he said. He was speaking from within the Latino experience. It’s very powerful stuff.”