Pope Francis greets a woman during a July 6 audience with 200 people from Lyon, France, who are living in difficult or precarious situations.


Pope Francis greets a woman during a July 6 audience with 200 people from Lyon, France, who are living in difficult or precarious situations.

July 25, 2016

The challenges and experiences of the Church in Latin America figure heavily in Pope Francis' papacy.

The pope's Latin American background is increasingly visible when it comes to making bishop appointments, addressing global issues and the pastoral care of the poor and the marginalized.

Pope Francis' preference for "shepherds with the smell of sheep" has become a prerequisite in his recent appointments.

In July, the pope chose a relatively unknown pastor from a small diocese in the Dominican Republic to lead the metropolitan archdiocese of Santo Domingo.

Bishop Francisco Ozoria Acosta of San Pedro de Macoris, who has experience as a pastor, director of formation and professor in pastoral theology, was considered by many as a surprise choice.

However, choosing a bishop whose ecclesial ministry is centred on pastoral care offers a glimpse into the pope's vision of a Church that looks outward.

That's a vision he embraced as a Jesuit, as archbishop of a major Latin American archdiocese and now as pope.

"This doesn't mean that Pope Francis presents the Latin American Church as a model and repeats what he did (there)," Guzman Carriquiry, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, told Catholic News Service.

"Rather, he takes from his ecclesial experience in Latin America all that he believes is important for his universal pastoral ministry."

Carriquiry said he believes popes are elected, not because they come from a certain region, but because they have the qualities the cardinals "consider to be the one most suitable to guide the Church in a given historical moment."

While the world is currently witnessing the effects of a more globalized society, the pope has seen it firsthand in his homeland.

In a letter commemorating the 200th anniversary of Argentina's independence, Pope Francis highlighted the suffering of the sick, the poor, prisoners, as well as those exploited through child abuse, drugs and human trafficking.

"They are the most afflicted children of the motherland," he wrote.

He also lamented the abandonment of the elderly and young people, who are the most vulnerable victims of a "'throwaway culture' that is imposed upon us globally."

The importance of reaching out to the peripheries is a constant theme for Pope Francis. However, his call for a Church that reaches out to those on society's margins was made long before his election as pope.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he headed the drafting committee for the final document of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil.


Its call to renew the Church's commitment to mission and discipleship in the Latin American continent, particularly to those far from the Church, continues to resonate today, a time where the Church is in decline in traditionally Catholic countries.

Within 10 years, Nigeria, Colombia and Congo will be among the world's most populous Catholic nations, he said.

The plight of migrants and refugees is another issue close to the heart of the pope who is "the son of immigrants who were the forebears of a great Catholic tradition," Carriquiry said.

One of the pope's surprising gestures was bringing three Syrian families to Italy with him following a visit to a refugee camp in Greece April 16. On his return flight, the pope emphasized the need to integrate rather than reject those who come seeking a better life.

"With integration, Europe's culture is enriched. I think that we need an education, a lesson, on a culture of integration," the pope told journalists April 16.

Nevertheless, Pope Francis' emphasis on the Church's preferential love for the poor and the suffering is not a foreign concept, Carriquiry said.

"These are not Latin American inventions; these are fundamental themes for the life and mission of the Church."