Our current Pope, Pope Francisco, is the first Latin American Pope to grace the Vatican. Pope Francisco was born Mario Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina and worked as a nightclub bouncer before entering the seminary to become a Catholic priest. He then went on to become Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and when his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI resigned in 2014 he was voted into the papacy.
In office since the end of 2014, his election caused great celebration throughout Latin America as they cheered on the beginning of a new era, one in which the head of the Catholic Church and one of the most powerful world leaders, was Latino.
Many Latinos remember the moment they learned that a fellow Latino had been named as Pope. Maribel, 18, of Mexican descent and a devout Catholic, says that she recalls watching on television as Pope’s Francisco’s election was announced. She immediately jumped up cheering and screaming and her whole family gathered around to embrace and celebrate. “It’s not just because he speaks Spanish,” she says. “Latin America needs a Latino Pope who knows the problems in Latin America and how to deal with them.”
Laura, 19, says that she was shopping when she found out via text message, and that she left the store almost immediately to go to her parish Cathedral and give thanks for his election. There she found plenty of other Latinos gathered around praying a Rosary for their new Pope. She says, “I know the Pope is one of the most powerful figures in the world. Having him in office while bring more awareness and attention to our region of the world.”
But while most Hispanics were overjoyed that their new Pope was Argentine, others criticized Pope Francisco as ‘not Latino enough.’ An article published in Huffington Post: Latino Voices, entitled “Is Pope Francis Latino?” suggested that because the Pope’s parents migrated to Argentina from Italy before his birth, he is not Latino.
But why can’t Pope Francisco be Argentine just because his parents were immigrants? Latinos in the United States have heard this argument before, as others sometime criticize them as not ‘real’ Americans if their parents or grandparents came from elsewhere. But truth is, the Pope was born in Latin America, speaks Spanish, and is intimately aware of the culture and issues in the region. Discrimination against him based on the fact that his parents were immigrants takes away from the reality of the situation: Latin America has a Spanish-speaking Pope who was born and raised there and is dedicated to addressing their concerns. Pope Francisco himself has demonstrated his concern for Latin American affairs in his numerous critiques of income inequality in the region, and his urging of their leaders to adapt policies that support workers’ human dignity. He has also worked closely with the impoverished and marginalized peoples of Argentina. The world carefully watches and listens to the words of the Pope, and his repeated speeches and efforts concerning Latin America both revives cultural pride and encourages the rest of the world to heed the needs of the region.