Pope Francis’ ‘Latino effect’ is a gift to the Catholic Church
Pope Francis was elected five years ago on March 13, 2013. Two firsts about him captured people’s imaginations: the first Jesuit and the first Latin American ever elected pope.
What kind of leadership would a Latin American Jesuit pope exhibit? Would the fact that he is Jesuit and Latin American make any difference?
Each pope brings a sense of newness and freshness to this ministry. In five years, Pope Francis has uniquely inspired Christians — and curiously, many non-Christians as well as people who claim not to have religious affiliation — to look at Catholicism with renewed eyes.
Writers and commentators soon started using the expression “the Francis effect.” The expression has served as an instrument to measure the impact of Pope Francis’ vision, style, policies, appointments, writings, travels, words and many other actions.
However, we must acknowledge that the idea of a “Francis effect” has some limitations.
One, this is still a young papacy. Two, the expression can be confused with many of our yearnings and frustrations as Catholics, placing unrealistic expectations upon someone steering an institution 2,000 years old. Three, though we see glimpses of interesting reforms, these still need more time to yield actual measurable effects.
We need to refrain from the immediatism characteristic of our culture. Five years seems like a long time, yet very short when placed in historical perspective.
After five years, I think that there is a “Francis effect,” yet it seems too soon to rush into too much excitement or too much disillusionment. Patience is a good virtue that allows us to discern where the Spirit leads us as a church. At his request, I continue to pray for him.
In the meantime, there is another effect associated with Pope Francis’ pontificate during these years that has received little attention: the Latino effect.
Pope Francis is a Latino pope. His election reminded us that about 40 percent of all Catholics in the world live in Latin America and the Caribbean. It also reminds us that more than 40 percent of Catholics in the United States are Latino.
The pope’s frequent use of Spanish has given major prominence to this language in the Catholic world. Well-known are the Latino and Latin American terms and categories, including some neologisms — new words or meanings — that he has introduced in conversations about evangelization.
But the Latino effect is much deeper and substantial than the use of Spanish or the introduction of a few words here and there.
Pope Francis has inspired a new wave of Latino and Latin American theological reflection at the service of the entire church. At the forefront of this theology are thinkers with deep Latino/Latin American roots, writing in Spanish and other languages.
It is no secret that many of the pope’s closest advisers, consultors and document drafters are Latino/Latin American. We are witnessing the development of a theology “in Spanish” setting the directions of theological scholarship as well as pastoral practice.
In the United States, initiatives like the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino ministry, involving hundreds of thousands of Catholics in missionary activity, draw directly from the wisdom of Pope Francis’ vision for evangelization.
The Latino effect also becomes manifest in the questions, sources and priorities that the pope has put before the entire Catholic community and the world.
Drawing from the best of his Latin American experience, Pope Francis has been effective giving new life to conversations about urgent realities like poverty, migration, the defense of life, engagement of young people and care for the created order, among others.
This Latino effect is real and exciting, a gift for the entire church.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. He is a member of the leadership team for the Fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry.