African, Asian Catholics see Pope Francis as force for renewal

Thu Mar 14, 2013 11:45am EDT
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By Marina Lopes and Manuel Mogato

MAPUTO/MANILA (Reuters) - Catholics in Africa and Asia on Thursday greeted the election of Pope Francis from Argentina as a historic breakthrough that would pump the developing world's vital energy into a struggling Church and amplify the voice of the planet's poor.

While there was disappointment that Pope Benedict's successor did not come from the African or Asian continents, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's Third World origins spurred hopes of a kindred spirit among Catholics from Manila to Maputo.

Argentina, in Latin America's southern cone, is as far from Africa and Asia as Europe, the prime source of previous pontiffs. But these rapidly developing southern continents of the globe, where poverty still looms large, are now home to the world's fastest growing Catholic communities.

African and Asian Catholics quickly identified with the new Pope's chosen name, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th century saint who spurned wealth to pursue a life of poverty, as a sign of a fresh direction in the global Church.

"This will be the pope of the poor since he also comes from the far corners of the earth," said Celso Dias, a 39-year-old law firm worker, as he stopped to pray at the whitewashed Santo Antonio da Polana Cathedral in the Mozambican capital Maputo.

On the outskirts of Nigeria's commercial metropolis Lagos, Father Raymond Anoliefo, who runs a parish Church at Ibeju, said he was heartened to hear that Bergoglio had criticized the Argentine government for not doing enough to tackle poverty.

"The problems he has in his country are the same as ours: poverty, corruption," he said. "It's encouraging to have someone from the developing world. This is 'our pope'".

In the Philippines, where more than 80 percent of the population are Catholic, Church leaders saw the selection of the first non-European pontiff in well over a millennium as a just recognition that the face of global Catholicism was changing.   Continued...