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A revolutionary pope’

Ann Marie Jakubowski | Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The world knows him as Pope Francis, the newly elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church. To his fellow Latinos, he is Papa Francisco, and his cultural heritage reflects the new energy and broader scope of today’s Church.


Freshman Steven Fisher said the moment Pope Francis stepped out onto the balcony, he became a symbol of hope, a pope who will actively engage the people of Latin America again. Fisher, whose family is from Mexico, said he is “very optimistic” about the new leader.


“Many among the Latino community have expressed excitement and satisfaction with the conclave’s decision,” he said. “A cardinal from Buenos Aires represents a new voice for many in the wider context of Latin America, and Catholics everywhere… expect his experiences as a Latin American, especially those involving poverty and violence, to influence the papacy ahead.”

Fisher said the reality of the Church has undoubtedly changed over the centuries, and Catholics must find a balance between their visions for the future and the traditions of the past.

“A Latin American pope reflects a Church that has grown beyond its core foundation in Europe; our Church today no longer resembles the Church that Saint Francis of Assisi [knew], when it remained confined to the Eastern Hemisphere,” he said. “Our Church today has encompassed all continents and continues to grow.”

Sophomore Cecilia Ruiz, whose family is originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, said the decision represents the sense that “the face of the Catholic Church is becoming more Latino.”

“I believe that the selection of Pope Francis reflects the fact that… the face of the Catholic Church is changing,” she said. “It has been a well-known fact that much of Latin America is Catholic… [and] I feel that with Pope Francis as our pope, the Church will grow more.

“It feels right that it should be led by someone who can connect with a large portion of the Church not only in a spiritual manner, but also on a cultural level,” Ruiz said.

Although she has never felt the Church was disconnected from Latin America, Ruiz said Francis’ Latino heritage fills her with a sense of solidarity.

“[The Church] is being led by a man who can relate to my family and me on a different level,” she said. “The fact that he speaks our language gives me a stronger tie to the Church… [but] no matter what ethnicity the pope may be, his leadership should make the faith of the Church stronger.”

Esteban Rojas, a sophomore with family ties to Colombia, said he believes the choice is the cardinals’ way of acknowledging a “momentum shift” within the Church, as the Latino Catholic numbers continue to grow worldwide.

“Over the past century, the Church has definitely expanded in the Americas as opposed to staying in the European cultures,” Rojas said. “I think [the cardinals] want a fresh take on the Church, and the new pope has proven that things will be different with his humility and leadership already.

“With Francis being a Latino, his background and culture can contribute to the Church beyond its European identity,” he said. “He’ll bring different insight that will benefit the Church worldwide, not just in Latin America.”

Rojas said while the election of a Latino pontiff hasn’t changed the way he thinks of the Church, it has energized his faith.

“The cardinals obviously want a leader for the Church as a whole, and Francis is an excellent leader for the entire Church, not just the Latino population,” he said. “It is exciting to see one of our own represented in such a high position, though, especially because it’s never been seen before.”

This is a “revolutionary pope,” he said, and he will evangelize to the world by the way he leads his life.

“Something exciting is going to happen [in the Church], because he has already changed a lot of the standard protocol or traditions for popes in their first couple days,” Rojas said. “I’m really excited to see what he has in store and how he handles such a huge leadership position.”

Katia Fernandez, a sophomore born in Lima, Peru, said she did a double take when she first saw the new pope appear on the balcony. His Latin American background makes him family to her, she said.

Fernandez said she thinks a Latino pope will unify the Latino population in the United States and throughout Latin America.

“This election has strengthened my identity as a Latina Catholic,” Fernandez said. “Having a Latino pope has brought me closer to my family and community, and I hope that Pope Francis… will be a household name for Latino families.

Sophomore Juan Rangel, a native of Mexico, said he hopes Francis will make Latin American issues known worldwide and bring new energy to the search for solutions.

“His actions just after assuming the role of pope, like insisting on paying rent and deciding against other papal traditions, demonstrates that he wants to portray himself as one of us,” Rangel said. “I hope that image of himself is maintained and strengthened during his time as pope. It will not only help within the Church as Catholics are warmed by this personality, but assist in international affairs as he meets leaders around the world.”

Rangel said he has high hopes for the papacy and it strengthens his faith to see that the faith is truly universal, not limited to Europe.

“I’m really excited to see what Papa Francisco will do during his papacy,” he said. “I envision him to be as great as Pope John Paul II was, and I hope his background and personality truly aid in his role as leader of our Church.”

For Fisher, the bottom line is not the cultural identity of the new pope but rather the legacy of faith he brings.

“Each pope offers new wisdom and gifts with the opportunity to serve Christ and the Church, and I look forward to this with Papa Francisco,” Fisher said. “But while I have faith in the new pope, my faith itself or how I think about my Church, does not depend on his nationality.

“I only pray for a papacy blessed with true charity and love. I could not ask for more, and I expect no less.”

Contact Ann Marie Jakubowksi at ajakubo1@nd.edu.