Friday, 15 March 2013


Pope Francis I waves from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in
Vatican on March 13. Photo by: Catholic Church News / CC BY-NC-SA

Shortly past 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Vatican, a puff of white smoke came out from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney. Jorge Mario Bergoglio is now Pope Francis.

There’s a lot of firsts with the ascension of the 76-year-old archbishop from Buenos Aires to the papacy. He is the first non-European pope in the modern era, the first pope named Francis, and the first pope to come from the developing world.

“You know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome,” Pope Francis said from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. “It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world to get him. But here we are.”

The new leader of the Catholic Church immediately received congratulatory wishes from all around the globe. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he looks forward to continuing cooperation between the United Nations and the Vatican, noting that the two “share many common goals — from the promotion of peace, social justice and human rights, to the eradication of poverty and hunger – all core elements of sustainable development.”

Leaders of aid groups who spoke with Devex were more than pleased with the news.

“That’s a sing of great hope … for developing countries and for the poor,” Francisco Hern├índez, Caritas Internationalis’ regional coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, told Devex. “We [found] an ally [because] he knows this reality and he personified it.”

Hernandez said having a Latin American pope can bring more attention to the region. But more than anything, he stressed, “we’ll have a universal pope who will really care about the whole world.”

Gianfranco Cattai, president of FOCSIV, the leading umbrella organization of Italian Christian NGOs, shares the view.

“[His words] show that [he] who looks at world from the South, from the periphery, can really innovate our church and also contribute to the future of humanity,” Cattai said.

Cattai took note of Pope Francis’ initial moves, such as using a crucifix made of metal instead of gold, suggesting a leaning toward sobriety and attention to poverty.

Hernández said he believes Pope Francis will help the fight against poverty and will press for a more integrated and humane approach to development, based on a stronger collaboration and dialogue with all religious groups, the civil society, governments and the private sector. He expects the Catholic Church to push for the respect of international laws, the protection of the most vulnerable countries and fair trade.

As to what the new pope should include in his anti-poverty agenda, Cattai suggested that he tackle inequality “not only between the North and South, but also in country where poverty is rising.”

He added: “Cooperation doesn’t mean only charity and aid, it means combining the interests of people, communities, states. We should not think as single actors in development cooperation, but in terms of systems.”

According to Cattai, the Catholic Church can also make a difference in crisis and emergency situations, by focusing, for instance, on issues like food security, working in close collaboration with the U.N. food agencies based in Rome, and paying special attention to issues such as land grabbing and the emergence of new forms of slavery.

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