New Pope appears to have interests of oppressed at heart
We have had a break with tradition in two respects after the Jesuit cardinal of Latin America, Jorge Bergoglio, of Argentina, was elected Pope.
"He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,To proclaim liberty to captives,And to the blind new sight,To set the downtrodden free."
This quotation from Isaiah is to be found at the beginning of St Luke's gospel soon after the infancy narratives.
Indeed, it is in this gospel that Jesus Himself is depicted as drawing attention to the prophecy with respect to outlining his own personal mission.
The attempt to realise these objectives, more especially with respect to the ministry of priests and nuns of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America, has proved deeply controversial for the Vatican, certainly during the past 40 years or so.
Nowhere better could the oppression of the poor be better illustrated in this continent than that which existed to an alarming extent not so long ago in El Salvador.
It was in this country that the majority of the wealth was in the hands of a few families.
Further, as is often the case in these political circumstances, the military was utilised, at all costs, to protect the status quo.
Those who spoke out in favour of social justice for the poor were executed in substantial numbers, especially priests, nuns and teachers.
Even more significant, with reference to the election of the present Pope, Francis, a number of Jesuit priests who were teachers at the university were persecuted.
One person in particular who stood out during this horrific period was the former Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero – assassinated in 1980 by government troops while celebrating mass in San Salvador at a small hospital chapel called La Divina Providentia.
Such was his popularity that an estimated 250,000 persons attended his funeral.
This was the price paid for speaking out in prophetic manner against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture.
The dilemma facing the Church at the time was that its priests, in the context of putting into practice what it called Liberation Theology, were openly aligning themselves with aspects of Marxism.
In simple terms, there was sympathy with the ideology's concern that radical changes should take place in the structure of society in order that much of the suffering encountered by the poor and oppressed could be alleviated.
By the same token, the Church has focused on a form of action in both Latin America and Africa that has largely steered clear of politics and has therefore been less controversial – that of Cafod.
This is the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, which basically uses as its motto "Cafod helps people to help themselves".
It concerns itself chiefly with the education of the poor such that they will become less dependent on short-term aid.
Farmers, for instance, can be helped to escape from a subsistence level of existence – one at the mercy of droughts and other vagaries of climatic conditions – by adopting more-productive measures, particularly in terms of being loaned modern machinery.
So this background to the Church in Latin America has particular poignancy for the Pope, as his ministry has been spent against this backcloth and, though at present we've seen or heard little of him, I'm sure we are in for an interesting time.
Most certainly in the spirit of the saint represented in his namesake, and his actions so far, I don't feel he is one who will dwell on much pomp and ceremony.
David Abbott, Stoke Golding