MEXICO CITY—As cardinals rushed to the Vatican on Sunday to begin the process of selecting a new pope, many back home were asking a question: If most of the world’s Roman Catholics live in the developing world, why has every pope been European?
The possibility that the next pope could come from Latin America, Africa or Asia is creating a buzz from Mexico City to Manila, from Tegucigalpa to Kinshasa.
Many Latin American Catholics said the only way to improve on a papacy they overwhelmingly supported would be to select someone from their own ranks.
Half of the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics live in Latin America alone, and the church is seeing explosive growth in Africa and Asia.
Many Catholics in poorer nations said a pope from their own regions would better understand the challenges they face.
“It will further help the church, whose membership is growing fastest in Asia, Africa and Latin America, if a new pope emerges from one of those areas,” said Isidore Chukwuemeka, a Catholic in Lagos, Nigeria. “That will help build loyalty in the universal church and reassure people that the rich countries are not calling the shots.”
Although several names from developing countries have been mentioned as candidates, it is unclear what kind of chance Third World religious leaders stand. Of the cardinals eligible to vote on the new pontiff, 21 are from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 11 from Africa, compared with 58 from Europe.