Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Pope pick a signal to Latino Catholics

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
updated 12:27 PM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
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
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT