“The rivalry between our countries is over: if the pope is Argentine then God is Brazilian,” Francis joked when journalists asked him why he was so beloved in this country, where millions came out to see him, despite the historic football rivalry between South America’s two giants.
At odds since colonial times, Catholicism and Afro-Brazilian religions have embarked on a process of mutual acceptance. Pope Francis added words and gestures to this reconciliation of two groups that share a common interest: confronting the growth of evangelical and neo-Pentecostal churches.
Pope Francis' first overseas trip, to Brazil, the country with the largest number of Catholics in the world, was marked with setbacks, disorganisation and lack of infrastructure for an event that brought half a million pilgrims to the city of Rio de Janeiro.
The Catholic Church has become sclerotic and is afraid of facing the issues of post-modernity, Brazilian theologian Frei Betto says, although he hopes that Francis, the first Latin American pope, will inspire it to renew its emphasis on social issues and the defence of the poor.
Jorge Bergoglio begins his papacy as Francis I facing the challenge of a Catholic Church caught up in a burdensome contradiction with modern society, because of its negative attitude to sexuality and women.
The new pope’s choice of the name Francis, to honour the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment, has awakened the hopes of ecologists and others who are concerned about rampant consumerism and the deterioration of the planet.
Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, a leading exponent of liberation theology, the progressive current in the Latin American Catholic Church, does not believe reports that depict the new Pope Francis as collaborating with Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship.
Argentine archbishop Jorge Bergoglio was selected as pope at a time when the Roman Catholic Church in this South American country is facing a rebellion by priests and laypersons who reject the role of the church leadership during the 1976-1983 dictatorship and the lack of reparations for past omissions and complicities.
No one would expect a Pope elected by an extremely conservative conclave to implement revolutionary reforms within the Catholic Church. Still, many see in the newly elected Pope Francis some signs of change.
The selection of a Latin American pope, who is known for his austere lifestyle and his work with the poor, has created a stir among Catholics in the region, who are confident that Pope Francis will help bolster the Vatican’s tarnished reputation.