New Pope May Signal Some Change, Say UCSB Religious Studies Scholars

Pope Francis I, as Bergoglio is now known, is the first pontiff from Latin America — and the Americas, in general; he is the first from the Jesuit order; and he is the first to choose the name Francis.

“The symbolic significance of a non-European pope is huge,” said Ann Taves, professor of religious studies. Taves holds UC Santa Barbara’s Virgil Cordano OFM Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies. “A little over a century ago, the majority of the world’s Catholics were still in Europe. Today, the situation is just the reverse. There are more Catholics in Asia and Africa than in Europe, but Latin America is the powerhouse when it comes to numbers of Catholics.”

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