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Guyana, Cuba: Habemus Papam, But “Who Is He”?

It's been a full day since the white smoke billowing above the Sistine Chapel signalled the news that Catholics the world over were waiting for: Habemus Papam. As it turned out, the Conclave of Cardinals elected the first Latin American and the first ever Jesuit pope, perhaps one who will be able to better understand the circumstances of the faithful who hail from developing nations, which is where more than 40% of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics reside. In the Caribbean, Facebook was filled with status updates about the papal choice and links to articles about the new pope's record – but only a handful of bloggers were moved enough to actually write posts about Bergoglio, who has chosen the papal name of Francis.

Guyana's Demerara Waves republished the message of the country's Roman Catholic Bishop, who thought that Bergoglio's election “would help narrow the distance between the Caribbean and the Vatican”:

‘When his name was announced and he came on the balcony, just for him to very simply ask the people to pray for him before he would give them the blessing; it left a stamp there right away. It set a tone that this is a man very much aware of people, his own limitations. A message there that whatever he does and what he has to do, it is about the people, coming from them and for them. We just want to invest in that Pope.’

Other than that, Cuban bloggers seemed to be the only ones paying attention. El Cafe Cubano uploaded a video of the new pontiff's first speech, while Havana Times reported that “Cuban President Raul Castro…congratulated Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, elected the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church and head of state of the Vatican City”. The post also noted that:

This is the first non-European Pope and Jesuit in history, though he has been criticized for his passivity during the crimes committed by the dictatorship in Argentina, as well as for his opposition to the Law of Marriage between people of the same sex, adopted in that country in 2010.

Dariela Aquique, guest blogging at Havana Times, shared an interesting perspective and questioned the rationale behind the celebration of so many Latin Americans:

By virtue of having gone so many centuries exploited and discriminated by the great powers, any achievement for the Latin American population is magnified from its perspective.

It’s as if that we are crying out to the world: “Look at us, we exist!” This is why today almost all Latin Americans — parishioners and even those who aren’t believers — are elated and proud of the election of a pope born from this side of the world.

For the first time in history there’s an Argentinean Pope, and this has caused people to take to the streets in celebration. Many leaders in the region have even posted their pleasure with this fact on social networks.

Still, I wonder… what does it matter where the Pope was born? If he’s European, Latino, African or Asian, that doesn’t change anything if he’s not an integral human being.

She continued:

This gentleman…has a personal history that’s somewhat regrettable: He collaborated with the dictatorship in Argentina. What’s more, there are charges that he turned people over to the authorities that are on the list of the disappeared.

In addition, he has opposed Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez on the issue of same-sex marriage, a stance that she has called medieval.

Therefore I don’t understand all the excitement by Argentineans and other Latin Americans. The past has weight and nobody changes from yesterday to today. The new Pope will be, in my opinion, another backward church figure.

He is like his predecessor, who once belonged to the Hitler Youth, encouraged the taking of oaths of silence in the face of charges of sexual corruption, and whose pontificate was marked by several scandals.

So, while Latinos are enthusiastically shouting: Habemus Papam, I ask have to ask: But who is he?

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