After much suspense around the world, the Vatican has elected the first Spanish-speaking pope from Latin America, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, 76, from Argentina. He is also the first to be named Francis, and a Jesuit.
“It is very interesting to see these three firsts,” says Alejandro Aguilera, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “He’s the pope for all of us.”
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are 242,000 Hispanics who are from, or trace their roots, to Argentina in the U.S. Also, Latinos account for nearly a third of all Catholics over 40 in the U.S., and nearly 50 percent of Catholics under age 40. Many say, they feel like Pope Francis can better relate to us all.
“He’s known to be very pastoral, very close to the people,” says Aguilera. “He lives a very simple life, uses public transportation, cooks his own food. He’s very spiritual, and is very loved by the people of Buenos Aires. It gives me a lot of happiness to have him as our new pope.”
Rosa Manriquez, a lector at a parish in Los Angeles, who is also working towards becoming an ordained Catholic priest (an act that is still not welcomed in the Catholic Church), says she watched in her living room as the new pope came out on the Vatican balcony, with tears rolling down her face.
“I was crying — it’s hard to explain,” says Manriquez. “As much as I’m considered a rebel and am ex-communicated, I love the Catholic Church. I love my church very, very much. I really hope this pope brings our church into this century…I’m hoping he will be a pope for the marginalized.”
Though Pope Francis is a conservative and has argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children, Manriquez is hoping for him to become more understanding. She says there are so many ex-Catholics that need to be ministered to, including the LGBT community, women who use contraception, women who have had an abortion, and couples who have divorced and been remarried.
“All of these people who the church has said, ‘You are wrong, you are wrong,” says Manriquez. “People need to be seen through the eyes of God…loved and respected. I think healings need to take place, and I’m hoping he will help in that healing…He also needs to change the clerical system, as well as the financial mishandlings in the Vatican — It’s a lot to do, and I hope he can do all of it.”
As a Jesuit, she says she’s also hoping that will mean he’s more pastoral.
“The Jesuits have been known for being intellectual, but also for being pastoral,” says Manriquez. “The advisor to Stephen Colbert, James Martin, is a Jesuit.”
Mario Paredes, the director of Catholic Ministries at the American Bible Society, says he’s excited.
“I believe Francis I is an excellent choice,” he says. “He’s a man who has championed the cause of the most needy, and a great theologian. I think his appointment is a recognition of the Catholic world majority — half of the Catholic world is in the Western Hemisphere. The fact that Cardinals elected someone from the Americas is a recognition that half of the Catholic world is here.”
According to Paredes, the Jesuit order (the official name being “the Society of Jesus”), is formed by highly studious, dedicated intellectuals — “the academic arm of the Catholic Church.”
“I don’t have any particular expectation,” says Paredes. who does think changes will take place. “I believe in his integrity. I believe he will be a great pope that will advance the cause of the Gospel – to preach the love of Jesus Christ, to do the right thing, to fight for truth, for justice, for freedom. I’m sure he will champion those causes.”