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RELIGION-LATIN AMERICA: Praying to God – and Betting on the Next Pope

Diego Cevallos*

MEXICO CITY, Apr 18 2005 (IPS) - If the Catholic Church worked like a democracy, the chances that the next pope would be from Latin America would be high. Around 45 percent of the world’s Catholics live in this region, and at least nine of the cardinals whose names are mentioned as possible candidates are Latin American.

If the Catholic Church worked like a democracy, the chances that the next pope would be from Latin America would be high. Around 45 percent of the world’s Catholics live in this region, and at least nine of the cardinals whose names are mentioned as possible candidates are Latin American.

But the only thing the faithful in this region can do is pray for their favourites – or bet.

Students from a Mexican university affiliated with the Catholic Church have chosen the latter, and one of them told IPS that in the betting, the region’s candidates are “on the heels” of the European cardinals.

A survey conducted early this month in Mexico by IPSOS-Bimsa, a private polling firm, found that 41 percent of respondents want the successor to Pope John Paul II to come from Latin America or Africa.

The Polish-born Pope died on Apr. 2, after a 26-year pontificate.


An online poll by the Argentine daily La Nación found that the favourite among Catholics in the region was German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, closely followed by Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

Despite the large proportion of the world’s Catholics living in Latin America, this region only produced 17.3 percent of the 115 members of the College of Cardinals who began to meet Monday in the Vatican to choose the successor to Pope John Paul II.

And Brazil and Mexico, the two countries in the world with the largest Catholic populations, only have seven votes in the conclave.

In the Church, “the size of the flock is not the important thing when it comes to choosing a pope, although it will have some influence,” Rodolfo Casillas, a Mexican academic who specialises in religion, told IPS.

“The Church is more like a monarchy, and the cardinals who come from countries with power and wealth apparently have a greater chance of becoming pope. But we’ll see if that’s true this week,” said Casillas, who is also a researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences.

Among the Latin American cardinals who have a chance, according to observers, are Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, Argentina’s Bergoglio, Darío Castrillón and Alfonso López Trujillo from Colombia, Javier Errázuriz from Chile, Brazil’s Claudio Hummes, Mexico’s Norberto Rivera, Jaime Ortega from Cuba and Juan Luis Cipriani from Peru.

The most talked-about is Rodríguez Maradiaga, a 62-year-old Salesian with impressive academic credentials and some ideas that go over well with “progressive” factions within the Church.

For example, he has called for the cancellation of the developing world’s foreign debt, has defended the environment, and advocates a preferential option for the poor (the idea that underlies liberation theology).

Bergoglio, 68, is a Jesuit who some see as espousing the Church’s social causes, while others say he collaborated with Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

The third most widely mentioned is 70-year-old Hummes from Brazil. As a bishop, he opposed the military dictatorship (1964-1985) in his country and backed several labour strikes. However, some analysts say that with the passage of time, he has become more and more conservative, and point out that he has reprimanded priests who have recommended the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

But observers both within and outside the Church say the three stand little chance of being selected.

The next pope will undoubtedly be a European, because the cardinals from that region “have a superiority complex that they cannot hide” and form “a majority in the conclave,” said Brazilian Cardinal Aloísio Lorscheider, who does not have the right to vote because he is over 80.

A similar view was expressed by Paulo Evaristo Arns, archbishop emeritus of the southern Brazilian city of Sao Paulo. The possibility of the next pope being Latin American “is very small because we are still on the fringes of the world…history is made in Europe, Asia and North America,” he said.

Although there are 117 cardinals eligible to vote, two are not present in the conclave due to illness. Of the 115 who are meeting, 58 are European, 20 are Latin American, 14 are from the United States and Canada, 11 hail from Africa, 10 from Asia and two from Oceania.

But it is not only a question of influence.

Brazilian priest José Oscar Beozzo, a theologian and former chairman of the Commission for Studies of the History of the Church in Latin America, said in an interview that “there could be surprises in the conclave, as history has shown, because of the methodology used.”

“Prior to the vote, the cardinals discuss the situation of the Church around the world, its needs and challenges, based on reports received from countries or regions. Later the kind of pope needed to address these requirements is decided,” he said.

“That process would, in general, run counter to the speculations and bets based on the positions or influences attributed to a possible new pope,” argued Beozzo.

On the web site www.votefornextpope.com, created by two Mexicans living in the United States, 35 percent of the slightly more than 2,300 people who have voted so far said they would prefer a Latin American pope while 22 percent would like to seen an African cardinal selected.

In Chile, the online edition of the newspaper La Cuarta organised a forum to discuss the possibility of the new pope being black.

One of the participants in the discussion, who identified himself as Carlos Llano, said “blacks have always been discriminated against” and said “a white pope with light-coloured eyes” would emerge from the conclave.

Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze is the African candidate with the strongest chances.

The web site Terra in Brazil is carrying out an on-line poll, asking whether the next pope will be German, Brazilian or Italian.

The responses by Monday afternoon indicated that a Brazilian was in the lead with 36.65 percent of the votes (15,423), followed by an Italian (29.34 percent, or 12,346 votes). Only 11.48 percent said the new pontiff would be German, while 22.53 percent said “I don’t know”.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who governs the country with the largest number of Catholics in the world (73 percent of the population of 182 million), said early this month that he would like to see a Latin American pope, who “would obviously be much closer to us, and would be more familiar with our problems.”

But “It would be even better if he were Brazilian,” he added.

The president has openly led the campaign for Hummes, who has been a personal friend since serving as bishop of Sao Bernardo do Campo, near Sao Paulo, when Lula was the head of the metalworkers union and led labour strikes against the dictatorship.

The bishop protected him as far as possible from repression, and offered churches as refuges for persecuted trade unionists.

In Bolivia, President Mesa said it was possible that the new pope “could come from Latin America, which has the greatest number of Catholics in the world, and high-quality cardinals who can aspire to succeeding John Paul II.”

For the Venezuelan government’s business attaché in the Vatican, Abraham Quintero, the selection of a Latin American pope “would be a blessing.”

José, one of the Mexican students who set up a betting ring among his classmates on who would be the next pope, said he and his friends were surprised at the large number of people who have participated. “Some have put as much as 200 pesos (around 20 dollars) on the Honduran bishop (Rodríguez), but the favourite has been Ratzinger,” he said.

As in other religious educational institutions, where some of the faculty members are priests, the students have been advised to meditate and pray for the College of Cardinals to choose the best pope.

But José, who did not want either his real name or the name of his university to be mentioned, in order to avoid possible reprisals from his professors, said it was clear that some of his classmates have been more attracted to betting than to prayers.

*With additional reporting by Marcela Valente in Argentina, Mario Osava in Brazil, Gustavo González in Chile, Patricia Grogg in Cuba and Humberto Márquez in Venezuela.

 
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RELIGION-LATIN AMERICA: Praying to God – and Betting on the Next Pope

Diego Cevallos*

MEXICO CITY, Apr 18 2005 (IPS) - If the Catholic Church worked like a democracy, the chances that the next pope would be from Latin America would be high. Around 45 percent of the world’s Catholics live in this region, and at least nine of the cardinals whose names are mentioned as possible candidates are Latin American.
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