by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Miguel Sanchez always believed the world would one day see a pope from Latin America.
But the parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Church in Kansas City, Kan., never expected it to be in his lifetime.
So when Pope Francis — formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina — stepped onto the balcony in St. Peter’s Square on March 13, words alone could not describe the “happiness” and “tears of joy” that came over Sanchez.
“If in one moment of my life I had doubt about the existence of the Holy Spirit, this was one of the most significant moments when I am sure of the existence, and it is present in the church,” said Sanchez, who is the coordinator of evangelization and formation for the archdiocesan Hispanic ministry office.
Many Hispanic Catholics in the archdiocese echoed that sense of elation at seeing the first pope to come from outside Europe in more than a millennium — and the first ever from Latin America.
“To me, the significance of having a Latin American pope is hope and identity,” said Claudia Vázquez-Puebla, a member of Our Lady of Unity Parish in Kansas City, Kan., who describes herself as a “proud Latina.”
“[He represents] hope to the immigrants all around the world who can identify with his personal journey of being a son of immigrants,” she continued, touching on the fact that Pope Francis was born to parents who had left Italy for Argentina.
“In the last few days that I have learned more about him, I can actually ‘identify’ with him, since I am an immigrant myself,” she said.
She also approved of the name he chose — one that to her symbolizes simplicity — and she sees it as a name that is “not for show.”
Father Pat Murphy, CS, archdiocesan animator for the office of Hispanic ministry — who met Cardinal Bergoglio during a trip to Buenos Aires — called this a great day for Latin Americans.
“They’ll be delighted that somebody who speaks Spanish has become pope — and such a down-to-earth person,” he said.
Although Argentina is actually an exception to this, he noted, the Catholic Church has been growing in many Latin American countries.
A significant percentage of the church’s faithful speaks Spanish, and Sanchez believes the cardinals’ votes for a Latin American leader showed great wisdom during a challenging time for the church.
If Hispanic Catholics feel supported, he said, they can lead the charge to evangelize and grow the church.
Sanchez sees the election of Pope Francis as a way to open the door for many people to return to their roots and embrace the Catholic Church.
“I believe the people know about Jesus already,” he said. “It is just they are going to go back home.”
The Hispanic community represents people from many backgrounds and nations, and having the church’s shepherd hail from Argentina will give people in the Spanish-speaking community opportunity to connect, instead of point out differences among countries, believes Sanchez.
“I believe that this will be a really positive action of the Holy Spirit,” he said of the election of Pope Francis.