The world's first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years may make anti-poverty one the key issues of his papacy. This would be great news for anti-poverty campaigners, and the Roman Catholic Church
And so we have a new pope: Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, is the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years (not, as a Radio 1 newsreader mistakenly said this morning, 100,000 years.)
As a Latin American, he not only represents a region with 40 per cent of the world’s Catholics, but also one that has long suffered from extreme income inequality. As the new pontiff said in 2007, ‘We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most, yet reduced misery the least… The unjust distribution of good persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.’
As a cardinal he won praise for his concern for the poor — living in a small flat instead of his official residences and travelling around by bus. He has urged Argentines not to travel to Rome to celebrate his papacy, but to donate money to the poor instead.
Pope Francis I has received praise for his frugal lifestyle
But how much impact can the election of a non-European, pro-poor Pope have on global inequality? There’s no doubt that the anti-poverty campaign will benefit from Pope Francis I using his position to highlight the importance of fighting inequality (especially if he doesn’t 'sully' this message with unhelpful ideas about HIV and condom use.)
It’s not always easy to appreciate from the UK, one of the most secular (but also unequal) societies in the world, but the pope’s pronouncements still carry a lot of weight, not only among 1.2 billion Roman Catholics but also — because his major speeches will be carried by the global media — far further afield. A pontiff that takes up poverty as one of his key issues will help boost the many Catholic charities and aid organisations already working to end poverty, like Caritas and Cafod.
As well as benefiting the global fight against poverty, if Pope Francis I makes anti-poverty one of his key issues, this could also benefit the Catholic Church. Not only will anti-poverty messages resonate with growing numbers of Catholics in the developed world, but elsewhere it could help combat the image of a Catholic church that is outdated and out of touch, besmirched by sex and corruption scandals and more concerned with sending out illiberal messages on abortion and homosexuality than with giving voice to the world’s needy.
Read more by Sophie McBain