ROME – The day after the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, was elected leader of the world's estimated 1.2 billion Catholics, Ariadna Estetania Cabello Rendace stood among a group of Argentines in St. Peter's Square and watched Bergoglio hold his first mass as Pope Francis on video screens placed around the vast cobble-stone piazza.
“Last night, when they announced the new papa, we were standing over there, near the fountain,” Rendace told The Diplomat, pointing across the square. “When he said 'Argentina,' I said 'What? Who? I cannot believe (it).'”
Based on demographics alone, there is clear reason to select a Pope from Latin America, home to 4 in 10 of the world's Catholics.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
By contrast, only 12 percent of the world's Catholics live in the vast Asia-Pacific region. From this contingent, five cardinal electors hail from India, with one each from Australia, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam according to the Holy See Press Office.
Asia’s Papal Blues
As Asians welcome the new pope, they do so with possible tinges of disappointment. Before the white smoke rose and the announcement was made, suggestions circulated that a handful of Asian cardinals were possible contenders.
Father Christopher Ann – a young priest from Gwangju, South Korea, who was showing a group of Korean pilgrims and tourists around St. Peter's Basilica, said that he hoped for an Asian Pope.
“But at the same time, it is not so important where the Pope comes from,” Ann added. “The most important thing is that the new father be able to stand against the materialism that is in the world.”
Pope Francis apparently shares the young priest's sentiment. In his first meeting with journalists on Saturday morning, the new pope explained that he chose the name Francis after Brazil's Cardinal Claudio Hummes congratulated him and asked him not to forget the poor.
“He hugged me and kissed me and told me not to forget the poor, and that word went in here,” Pope Francis said, pointing to his head, while speaking to around 3,000 journalists in the Paul VI Hall. “I immediately thought of Francis of Assisi,” he added, referring to the saint perhaps most closely associated with compassion for the poor.
Of Asia’s papal contenders – Manila's Luis Antonio Tagle, Mumbai's Oswald Gracias and Colombo's Malcolm Ranjith – the Filipino was the most touted, due to his outgoing personality and relative youth at just 55 years old
By comparison, Poland's Karol Józef Wojtyła (Pope John Paul II) was a mere 58 when elected to the papacy in 1978. He would go on to become the second-longest serving pontiff in the two-millennia history of the Catholic Church.
Gollowon Allesandro Cabangcla, a Filipino who has lived in Rome for ten years, explained he was “a little disappointed” that his compatriot Cardinal Tagle was not elected. “Maybe he was a bit too young still,” reckoned Cabangcla, who hopes Francis I will visit the Philippines, following in the footsteps of John Paul II who held Mass for an estimated four million people in Manila in 1995, the largest papal audience in history.