International News

Latin American Leaders Praise Francis’ First Year

by Lise Alves

SAO PAULO (CNS) – Many Latin American Church leaders, who in the past have felt excluded from the decisions made at the highest echelons of the Church, expressed appreciation for the perspective Pope Francis has taken to the Vatican.

“There is (now) a greater understanding of the Latin American church,” said Bishop Miguel Olaortua Laspra of Iquitos, Peru. “We know that he is one of ours, that he was at Aparecida, he knows the many realities, and he knows many people,” he added, referring to a 2007 meeting of bishops in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The year-old pontificate “has been a welcome surprise, due to his style and his knowledge of our continent, as well as the decisions he has taken in beginning to reorganize the Roman Curia,” said Uruguayan Bishop Rodolfo Wirz Kraemer of Maldonado, president of the Uruguayan bishops’ conference.

“He has the perspective of the so-called Third World countries,” added Bishop Wirz, noting that this also includes a greater interest to what is going on in Africa and Asia. “He insists on meeting all types of people from all over the world and all walks of life. He pushes forth that missionary impulse found in the Aparecida document.”

“What seems like a slogan to many is, for Pope Francis, a program for evangelization … to go outside the church’s walls and meet the Catholic people,” the bishop added. “With his actions and not only speeches, he gives us these examples.”

Bishop Guilherme Werlang of Ipameri, president of the Brazilian bishops’ commission for justice and peace, said the pontificate has been a “confirmation that the Latin American church is one of the lead actors in Vatican II. It shows that we, Latin America, as a people, have value, we need to be heard.”

Father Mario Hector Panetta, secretary-general and chancellor of the Archdiocese of Mendoza, Argentina, agreed that “although he has experienced the Latin American reality, Pope Francis is not likely to focus only on the region. He is likely to prioritize the poorer people and one can find them in all regions around the world.

“What is wonderful is that Cardinal (Jorge) Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, continues to be the same person, with the same push for the Gospel,” the priest said. “One may say that he is sending out these signals to garner attention, but if one looks closely at his history, his life has always been guided by the Gospel.”

Vincentian Father Gabriel Naranjo Salazar, secretary-general of the Latin American Confederation of Religious, said “Pope Francis insists on a church by the poor, for the poor,” strongly reflecting not just the spirit of the Second Vatican Council but also the “the preferential and evangelical option for the poor.”

Reaffirmation of Vatican II

Father Naranjo said people identify with the pope’s message and with his reaffirmation of Vatican II.

“This has reawakened a sense of belonging to the church just at a time when it was seriously threatened by problems resulting from scandals,” he said, adding that many people are “re-establishing their ties” to the Church, “including intellectuals, young people and people who had distanced themselves. People from other religions also feel a spirit of ecumenism” in the Catholic Church now.

Nery Rodenas, director of the Office of Human Rights for the Archdiocese of Guatemala City, said there are signs of greater discussions at the Vatican in regards to human rights.

Pope Francis “has lived in Latin America, where signs of violation of human rights were very clear in previous decades. I believe as head of the church he will push forward a greater discussion about it.”

The discussions, said Rodenas, will not only touch the countries in which there have clearly been violations of human rights but also countries where there are conditions for such violations.

Cardinal Orani Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro said Pope Francis “has a Latin American perspective for universal questions.”

Many of those interviewed by CNS emphasized that Pope Francis’ outgoing style should not be seen as a criticism of previous leaders.

“We should not compare him to our beloved Pope Benedict XVI,” said Bishop Wirz. “Although the two have distinct personalities, they complement each other … their actions should be seen as a continued effort.”[hr] Contributing to this story were Barbara Fraser in Lima, Peru, and David Agren in Mexico City.

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