Francis I: The First Latin American Pope

by Fausta Rodríguez Wertz

The Cardinals of the Catholic Church elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as head of the worldwide church.

Cardinal Bergoglio has taken the name of Pope Francis I, becoming the first pontiff from the Americas and the first from the southern hemisphere. The Cardinals are therefore highlighting Latin America’s vital importance to the Church.

March 13, 2013 - Vatican City State (Holy See) - Cardinal JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, 75 year old, argentinian, becomes Pope FRANCIS. (Credit Image: © Evandro Inetti/

At 40%, Latin America has the largest percentage of Catholics in the world, with approximately 480 million faithful. Most of them are in Mexico and Brazil, where Protestantism and Evangelicalism have been steadily on the rise for a few decades, surely a concern for the new Pope.

Cardinal Bergoglio is also notable for becoming the first Jesuit Pope. His new name honors one of the first members of the Jesuit order, Saint Francis Xavier, considered the greatest missionary since the time of the Apostles. Hence, by choosing that name, Pope Francis I signals the importance of spreading the faith among all peoples.

The Jesuit order was banned in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV and reinstated by Pope Pius VII in 1814. In the New World, Jesuits founded and traditionally have run some of the most prestigious educational institutions: colleges, universities, and private schools. They have followed the principle of its founder, Saint Ignatius Loyola: the way to defend the faith is through education. Their schools in the region are noted for their classics-based curriculums and count among their alumni Nobel Prize winners, presidents, and members of the traditional professions. (Here in the USA, President Bill Clinton is a graduate of Georgetown University).

Jesuits recently have become involved in the Liberation Theology movement, which Jesuit Superior General, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas described in 2008 as “a courageous and creative response to an unbearable situation of injustice in Latin America."

The son of Italian immigrants, Pope Francis I is regarded as "a champion of Liberation Theology”. He was created a cardinal by John Paul II on February 2001. As Archbishop, he was actively involved with the day-to-day activities of his Diocese in Buenos Aires, where he traveled by bus, and lived in a modest apartment instead of the Bishop’s mansion. He was accused by journalist Horacio Verbitsky of collaborating with the military dictatorship during the dirty war, leading to the disappearance of two Jesuits,

According to "The Silence," a book written by journalist Horacio Verbitsky, Bergoglio withdrew his order's protection of the two men after they refused to quit visiting the slums, which ultimately paved the way for their capture.


Those who defend Bergoglio say there is no proof behind these claims and, on the contrary, they say the priest helped many dissidents escape during the military junta's rule.

He has encouraged the Catholic Church to contribute to public education in Argentina, instead of exclusively in private schools.

Last year Cardinal Bergoglio stepped down as Archbishop of Buenos Aires because of his age.

CNN, describes Cardinal Bergoglio as:

“a straight-shooter who calls things as he sees them, and a follower of the church's most conservative wing. He has clashed with the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner over his opposition to gay marriage and free distribution of contraceptives.”

Pope Francis has asserted that the Church’s mission is to convey and facilitate faith.

Pope Francis I was ordained priest at age 33, loves tango and is a soccer fan. He’s fluent in Spanish, Italian, and German.

A man of learning, he can be expected tol lead the Church towards educating the poor. The Cardinals made a bold move, and Latin America’s Catholics are certainly exuberantly happy of his ascension.

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