“The manifestations of so many men and women of Venezuela, of the whole world, and the presence of the heads of states are worthy expressions of appreciation from those of us today who say goodbye and thank you wholeheartedly. To the vast multitude of men and women who prayed for the president and continue to pray for him, we say to them that their prayers did not fall into the void, instead their prayers are like the grain of wheat that falls in order to bloom, and now bears fruit in the gift of life eternal that we pray for him. By clinging to Christ, who wanted a special dedication to the poor and the little ones in society who now raise a song of gratitude and loving prayer so that Christ may take hold of him for eternal life. “
[Monsignor Mario Moronta finally gave greetings to the national authorities on behalf of the Venezuelan bishops and Church.] “Mr. Vice President, Members of the National Government, the various powers, members of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, the followers and friends of President Chávez, we send a greeting of solidarity from the bishops of the Catholic Church in Venezuela”.~Monseñor Mario Moronta, Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristóbal, speaking for the Vatican at the state funeral for Hugo Chávez Frías
Those of us who followed the live feed for the funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías last Friday (March 8, 2013), might have paid attention to the very interesting remarks made by the Vatican’s delegate and speaker at the funeral. The message was one of unambiguous support for the preferential option for the poor and for social justice, reminiscent of a time when, within the context of the history of the Roman Catholic Church, there was a radical shift under Pope John XXIII in the 1960s. I personally sensed a change being announced or previewed at Chávez’s very funeral, the right location and time to signal such a turn. I told those following the funeral with me that I would not be surprised if the next Pope to be chosen would come from Latin America. Chávez, who was himself a devout Roman Catholic, was also honoured with a mass held in the Vatican itself, led by Jorge Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas, and the Vatican had sent its condolences to Venezuela as well..
And now we have the news: Argentina‘s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit, has a few moments ago been announced as the next Pope, taking the name of Francis, in tribute to Saint Francis of Assisi, famous for his love of nature, and his consecration to poverty and charity. The Jesuits have probably been the most socially progressive, at times almost radical element of the Catholic Church in Latin America (which does not necessarily translate into an accurate summary of Bergoglio’s career). Bergoglio is known for his “personal humility, doctrinal conservatism and a commitment to social justice.” Like the President of Uruguay, José Mujica (a former guerrilla, an ally of Chávez) who is hailed for his humble lifestyle, Bergoglio was also known for preferring, “a simple lifestyle….He lives in a small apartment, rather than in the palatial bishop’s residence. He gave up his chauffeured limousine in favour of public transportation, and he reportedly cooks his own meals.” The point is that Bergoglio is part of a new alignment, a pattern, a framework that first broke onto the Latin American political and spiritual scene in the 1960s with Vatican II and the “preferential option for the poor,” accompanying the rise of Liberation Theology, all of which seemed to have been stemmed by the now defunct Pope Benedict XVI, the right wing theologian also known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
The choice of Bergoglio for Pope is a major political and strategic decision taken by the Roman Catholic Church, a decision to begin to refocus on specific parts of the world where a majority of its following is to be found. I thus thought that U.S. news commentators, interviewing Americans in Rome, all hoping for a U.S. Pope (the expansionist nationalism never far away), were being quite unrealistic. Why would the Church wish to cater to a small and troublesome minority? Why would the Church wish to present itself to a world in fragmentation as yet another type of Bretton Woods institution, another symbol of U.S. power, as if to suggest that U.S. domination was absolute, eternal and divinely sanctioned? Well, we have some answers then after all.
Understanding that a socialist tide that has swept across much of Latin America, accompanied by the encouragement, aid, and leadership of the indefatigable Chávez, the Church was forced to reevaluate where its interests and a plausible future ought to be rooted. To reorient itself to Latin America, it could not opt for a high-handed, angry elitist snob, but for a new Pope that does not stand starkly opposed to the continental Bolivarian alliance–the assemblage of secular powers with which the Church must necessarily work, and whose messages overlap in some key respects with those of Bergoglio over the past few years. More important than Bergoglio the man, is the fact that the world is already one that is beginning to fragment into distinctive power blocs, and with the formation of numerous integrative institutions, led or motivated by Chávez and Venezuela, Latin America is gradually becoming a world of its own. This is a world that could also easily subsist without the rest of the planet, fully self-sufficient in everything it needs or could want. I believe we are witnessing the formation, anew, of plural world-systems, and the Church has chosen to integrate itself with one of the largest and most dynamic, and the home of most of its followers. This may then really be a new Pope for a New World.