- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Latin and Central America, home to 45 percent of the world’s Catholics, is also a springboard for several cardinals who are more than qualified to be the next pope, church observers say.

“There are ways this could be put together, where someone from Latin America would seem to be a natural choice,” said Eric Hanson, professor of religion and politics at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution in California’s Silicon Valley.

“If the cardinals going into the conclave are looking at the church where it’s growing, they’ll be looking in the Southern Hemisphere,” said the Rev. Roger Landry, a Hyannis, Mass., priest educated in Rome, who has traveled in Mexico and Argentina.

“They’ll say the experience of the church in Africa is so young, and maybe it’s best to look at Central or Latin America, where Catholicism was planted five centuries ago,” he added.

The two names being mentioned most around Rome are Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, 62, and Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, 70, said Alejandro Bermudez, a correspondent for Aci Prensa, the world’s largest Spanish-language news agency, based in Lima, Peru.

“Hummes is definitely more conservative than his predecessor [Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns], but he’s still considered a progressive in comparison with other cardinals in Latin America,” he said. “He made [his conservatism] very explicit two weeks ago when he wrote an article on the Second Vatican Council. It was very strong against globalization, which is not common in Latin America. He is very reluctant about free trade.”

Cardinal Hummes, however, is a Franciscan who has defended landless Brazilian peasants.

“A choice of a Latin American cardinal would say this person is coming from the area of the world most important to the Catholic Church right now,” he added.

Should the cardinals, whose conclave to elect a new pope begins April 18, choose a man from one of these countries, it may be as a strategic move to shore up a Catholic Church that has taken a hit in terms of membership declines.

Brazil, the world’s largest Catholic country with 100 million Catholics, is losing about 1 million Catholics a year, mainly to evangelical Protestant faiths. Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala are also experiencing steep declines.

Other names being mentioned include Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 68, archbishop of Buenos Aires; Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 75, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, one the most ancient and important congregations in the Holy See; and Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, 63, of Mexico City.

“He’s the leader of the church in the largest Catholic city in the world,” Father Landry said of the Mexican prelate, “and would bring to the papacy quite a bit of administrative experience. If the cardinals walking into that conclave want someone to be a popular evangelist and proclaim the Gospel to young families and youth, he’s their man.”

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