Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Pope pick a signal to Latino Catholics

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
March 14, 2013 -- Updated 1627 GMT (0027 HKT)
People pray after learning of the newly elected Pope Francis at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 13. The former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina has made history as the first pontiff from Latin America. People pray after learning of the newly elected Pope Francis at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 13. The former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina has made history as the first pontiff from Latin America.
HIDE CAPTION
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
The world reacts to new pope
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: For Latino Catholics, selection of a Latino pope has been long overdue
  • He says, like many, he's a 'cafeteria Catholic," accepts some doctrine, rejects others
  • He says with abuse scandal church has made it hard to stay, new pope sends good signal
  • Navarrette: Pope pick is crucial nod to vast cohort of Latino Catholics

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

(CNN) -- "It's about time!"

That was how a friend and fellow Mexican-American Catholic responded to the news that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina had been elected the first Latino pope in the nearly 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church. It was one of those spontaneous utterances that, while not politically correct, was at least honest and heartfelt.

It's about time.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

And for wayward Latino Catholics like me, the election came at just the right moment. Just how wayward? I go to Mass five times a year, and it's been almost 40 years since my last confession. Even when I do go to church, I'm what they call a "cafeteria Catholic." I pick and choose what I like from sermons and disregard the rest. I believe in the holy trinity, but I also believe in things that the Church teaches me I shouldn't believe in -- like gay marriage and a woman's right to choose.

Where does that leave me? Some of my fellow Catholics would judge me harshly and accuse me of being insufficiently committed to our faith.

I'm not. I'm good with my faith. I pray directly to God, and I don't need an intermediary. What I'm sufficiently committed to is my Church, which frankly -- in light of its own sins -- is in no position to judge anyone. It's because of the scandal involving sex abuse of young boys by priests that the Catholic Church is -- in my life, and I'm sure in the lives of other Catholics -- hanging on by a thread. I've been tempted to leave in disgust more than once.

Opinion: Pope Francis a conservative who sides with the poor

It doesn't help that I live in Southern California, in the shadow of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The largest Catholic archdiocese in the United States, it was until recently under the control of Cardinal Roger Mahony. The archdiocese of Los Angeles and Mahony recently settled a child sex abuse lawsuit for nearly $10 million.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Mahony, who retired in 2011, was accused of helping a confessed pedophile priest evade authorities. Yet he was allowed to vote at the conclave in Rome.

As a Catholic, it's hard to be idealistic, cheery and hopeful when you live in Mahony's backyard. There is always news coming out of that archdiocese, and it's usually bad.

Even so, I've come to accept that the Catholic Church is home to me. It's comfortable, familiar. When I go to weddings or funerals, I know instinctively that this is where I belong. The Church is deeply flawed, and the new pope has a lot of work to do in terms of rebuilding the confidence of parishioners. But I can't go anywhere else.

Anne Barrett Doyle on hope for new pope
Dolan: Every Catholic is happy
Jorge Bergoglio: The first Pope Francis

It's human nature to want to see yourself reflected in an organization you belong to. It's why Mormons in the United States were excited at the prospect of electing Mitt Romney president. It's why Jews were just as eager in 2000 to elect Joe Lieberman vice president. It's why, in East Coast cities like Boston or New Haven or New York, for generations the Irish voted for Irish candidates, and the Italians for Italian candidates.

There are about 480 million Catholics in Latin America, and that's not counting the 40 million to 50 million Latinos in the United States who are also Catholic. That accounts for nearly half of the 1.2 billion Catholics on the globe.

Even for a people who often think not in terms of years but centuries, and who are famous for their patience, 20 centuries is a long, long time to wait for an acknowledgement that you exist, that you matter, and that you deserve respect.

Opinion: Argentina a complex crucible for Pope

Now the wait is over. Pope Francis is of Italian descent, but he was born in Buenos Aires in 1932. Raised in Latin America, he speaks Spanish fluently and understands what life is like for the poor and downtrodden. As other commentators have rightly noted, the fact that he chose the name "Francis" -- in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the champion of the have-nots -- is a hint that he intends to focus the world's attention on the issue of income equality.

Meanwhile, the news of a Latino papa has sent a jolt of euphoria through Argentina and throughout Latin America. Imagine winning the World Cup Championship times 10. There also will be a lot of excitement among Latinos in the United States, perhaps enough to reignite their passion for the Church and bring them back to Mass.

Lastly, the newly elected pope serves as a powerful symbol. He signals new beginnings. He represents the people who represent the future of Catholicism.

As the first non-European elevated to pope in more than 1,200 years, the 76-year-old instantly puts Latin America on the map. This is one of the youngest regions on the map. If Europe harkens back to yesterday, then Latin America represents tomorrow.

That's fitting. After all, for Catholics, this is a new day.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 12, 2014 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT