March 14, 2013

Lorena Lopez, the editor of La Prensa Iowa Hispanic Newspaper, was driving near Early when she heard the news of the papal selection Wednesday. She knew right away what the ascendency of former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina means to her church - and all Latinos.

"I think that is very important for everybody from Latin America because we never had a pope from Latin America," Lopez said. "This pope is very family-oriented, and that is a characteristic in the Latino culture."

Thirty-nine percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics are Latino, and 50 percent of Catholics in the United States under 40 are Latino. The demographic represents a muscular and growing part of the church. Pope Francis, raised in Buenos Aires as a son of Italian immigrants, counts Spanish as his native language.

"To me, it represents the power of spirituality as Catholics that we have in the whole world," said Lopez, a Carroll resident and member of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Denison.

Lopez said she's particularly drawn to the story of Francis visiting a hospice as a cardinal and washing the feet of 12 victims of HIV-AIDS. The cardinal did the same thing for recovering drug addicts at a rehabilitation facility in Buenos Aires. Both acts demonstrate the pope's fidelity to the teachings of Christ, and his compassion for the world's poor, Lopez said.

"That is an example for a lot of other priests in the world if they think because they are priests or they are cardinals or because they have a high position in the Catholic Church, they aren't going to the level of the poor people," Lopez said. "To me, it is a really good example."

Lopez said she admired that humble lifestyle of Francis, who reportedly doesn't drive and takes buses and other public transportation in Buenos Aires.

The Latinos Lopez has spoken with since Wednesday afternoon are thrilled, whether they're Catholic or not, she said.

"They think that he's going to be a good pope," Lopez said. "That's what everybody expects and thinks."