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First Latin American Pope Known As A Humble Leader


Our coverage this hour begins from Rome with NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. And Sylvia, tell us more about Pope Francis, as he is now known.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Well, I think the choice that he took of his name, Francis, is very appropriate because what we know of him is that he's a very humble man. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he forsake many of the luxuries that his predecessors had - were accustomed to. He did not live in the archdiocese but in a simple apartment, and he even gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of taking the bus.

So this is a - he apparently - he even cooks his own meals regularly and visited the slums, so this is a man of humility, and who has a great sense of the benevolence towards the poor.

CORNISH: You've reported that the cardinals seemed divided into two camps going into this voting - those who wanted a pope close to the Vatican curia, the Vatican's administration; and those who wanted a pope from elsewhere, who was more of a reformer. Which do - which does the church have here?

POGGIOLI: Well, I think it's a little early but certainly, I think he probably really reflects much more what the so-called reform party wanted, as opposed to the Roman party. The Roman party would be the Vatican insiders of the curia, the Vatican administration. He is, first of all, this is the first Latin American pope. This marks a shift away from Europe. There had been criticism of Pope Benedict having been focused too much on Europe, where the churches are empty, where there's a huge decline in the number of faithful.

And while the church is really growing tremendously in Latin America, where there are 40 percent of the world's Catholics are there, I think we're going to see a tremendous shift in focus, certainly geographical. And I think this is very much what the reformers wanted.

CORNISH: Now, what is known about the ideas and the principles, or the imperatives, that will actually guide Pope Francis?

POGGIOLI: Well, we know he is a Jesuit, first of all. But we also know that he's very orthodox on matters of sexual morality. He also - in Argentina at the time when liberation theology, that was a very progressive movement among many priests in Latin America, he was not in favor; so he has a rather conservative stance on much of the dogmatic issues of the church.

However, he is also seen as somebody who straddles the fault line between liberals and progressives. He's very much embraced the Latin American ethos of the defense - social justice in defense of the poor. He has spoken out very forcefully against globalization, and the damage it has done to the poor. So I think we find that he is, in some ways, hard to pigeon-hole at the moment and - but certainly, I think, a representative of the developing world as opposed to the developed first world.

CORNISH: And Sylvia, just a short time left, but what do you think about how Catholics around the world are likely to respond to a pope from the global south?

POGGIOLI: I think it's very invigorating. I think many, many Catholics - as I said, the faithful are declining in Europe. The excitement is now in the developing world, in Latin America, in Africa and in Asia. And I think a pope from outside of Europe, outside of the West, of European West, is going to be received very, very well.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, talking about the choice of a new pope today - Pope Francis, from Argentina. Sylvia, thank you.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.