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Miguel Perez
Miguel Perez
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Latino Pope Evokes Pride and Questions

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At first, all we felt was pride. Learning that the Vatican had selected its first Latin American pope gave Hispanic Catholics a sense of inclusion we had never felt before.

I felt like screaming "gooooal," but I was in a university faculty meeting, and my colleagues would have found it a little strange. Even "Viva el Papa" would have been disruptive, and so some emotions needed to be suppressed.

Nevertheless, the selection of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio — now Pope Francis — was a huge symbolic gesture to embrace the world's Hispanic Catholics, and it was received with tears of joy throughout the Americas.

But then came the questions.

What can the former Bishop of Buenos Aires really do for Latin America? Better yet, what is he willing to do now that he is the pope?

Can he become the driving force that leads to liberation? Can he do for Latin America what Pope John Paul II did for his native Poland and Eastern Europe?

We know that he is the first Jesuit and the first pontiff from our hemisphere. But will he be the activist pope who brings freedom and human rights to the Americas?

While the rest of the world is wondering how Pope Francis will respond to the social liberation issues confronting the Catholic Church, Latinos are asking where he will stand on political liberation and totalitarian repression.

Will he have the courage of John Paul II, who was known for combatting political oppression and pressuring world leaders to be more tolerant of their opponents? Or will he be irresponsibly passive, as some of his critics claim that he was during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983?

We know he chose a name — Francis — that could signal a new direction for the Catholic Church, that perhaps he intends to become the champion of the poor. But does that make him a proponent of freedom and democracy or Christianized Marxism? Will he help bring down Communism, as John Paul II did in Poland and Eastern Europe, or will he condone dictators who accumulate massive personal wealth and still claim to speak for the poor?

We know that the last two popes have gone to Cuba and called for freedom.

And we know the new pope even wrote a book about the "Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro." But will Pope Francis be as outspoken as his predecessors?

We know that on social issues he is considered conservative, an outspoken critic of the liberal policies of the current Argentinian government. But how will Pope Francis deal with Cuba and all the left-leaning Latin American leaders who have been waging war on the Catholic Church?

Will he be preoccupied with spreading the church's message and fixing its many internal problems, or will he be the shepherd who leads Latin America to a much better place?

And when he comes to the United States, as we hope he does, what would Pope Francis say to U.S. Latinos? Would he speak out in defense immigrants with the same fervor as his predecessors?

After citing the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in a 1995 mass at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, John Paul had the guts to ask a controversial question: "Is present-day America becoming less sensitive, less caring toward the poor, the weak, the stranger, the needy?"

"It must not," he added. "Today, as before, the United States is called to be a hospitable society, a welcoming culture."

As the first Latino Pope, would Francis be willing to speak out against xenophobia in this country?

"We need to clarify the essential difference between an unhealthy form of nationalism, which teaches contempt for other nations or cultures, and patriotism, which is a proper love of one's country," John Paul told Americans in 1995. "Nationalism, in its most radical forms, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism."

Will Pope Francis lecture us this way, please?

He is not just the new pope. He is the first from Latin America, the first representing 40 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. And that comes with added expectations.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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