Latin America puts its faith in cardinal from Sao Paulo
Apr 19, 2005
From whitewashed colonial cathedrals to ochre churches in the rainforest, millions of Latin Americans are praying the cardinals turn their gaze from Europe today and choose a pope from the world's most populous Roman Catholic continent.
(Telegraph, 18/04/2005) A pope who was one of them would be more understanding and less doctrinaire than the much loved but theologically austere Pope John Paul II, liberals hope
But all are agreed that the time is now ripe for a pope from the landmass which is home to nearly half the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.
"It is the moment for a Latin American pope. We are the greatest Catholic continent in the world," Paulo Evaristo Arns, the former archbishop of Sao Paulo, said.
Like many in Brazil, the most Catholic nation on the most Catholic continent, he is pinning his hopes on his successor, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as a possible compromise between the conclave's rival conservatives and progressives.
His record of defying the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s offers an intriguing parallel with the anti-totalitarian record of Karol Wojtlya before he became pontiff. Yet, as Brazilians know all too well, his record of standing up for the workers may doom his chances with conservatives.
John Paul, mindful of his own battles against communism, took a dim view of priests and bishops too closely aligned with Marxism, part of what was then known as the "liberation theology" movement.
While Cardinal Hummes, 70, is no firebrand and has made conservative pronouncements on dogma and beliefs, his focus on social justice and poverty is radical compared with many of his fellow cardinals.
An old friend, Jose Albino, president of Sao Paulo's branch of the ruling Workers' Party, recalls how as a bishop he "rescued" the workers, including Brazil's current president, in 1979 in their campaign against the military by opening the doors of his church to their meetings.
"All the squares and parks had troops in them," he said. "We did not know what was going to happen. We were in front of his church and Dom Claudio said, 'You can use the church. It is open'.
"From that point, we started to believe in victory. It was a day of great joy."
The following year Bishop Hummes stepped in again, negotiating a truce between troops who were surrounded by demonstrators outside his church and about to open fire. As the Pope made clear his dislike for "liberation theology", Cardinal Hummes distanced himself from the movement and continued to rise through the clergy, becoming a cardinal in 2001.
While he often speaks against free trade and globalisation, he also follows the Vatican's strict line on abortion, gay rights and contraception, against the liberal instincts of many of Brazil's 100 million Catholics.
As a Franciscan, Cardinal Hummes has a second question mark over his chances.
Traditionally, the cardinals have not chosen a member of one of the religious orders.
With 21 of the 115 electing cardinals, the second largest voting bloc after Europe, Latin America has other "papabili", including Oscar Maradiaga of the Honduras, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, and Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City.
But no one can quite bring themselves to believe that the next pope will be a local boy. "Our cardinals should have got together to lobby for the region but they have not.
"Europe has a supremacy over America," said the former Sao Paulo archbishop. "We are in a region sidelined at the world's outer limits."