By Michael W Edghill
The 1st Latin American to lead the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis of Argentina, may well be considered the 1st pope of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Within a few years, the leader of the Catholic Church has defined his papacy as one focusing on the poor and marginalized in the world; something that Caribbean populations are not unfamiliar with.
Additionally, Pope Francis has engaged in topics of discussion that, while controversial among certain populations in the United States and western Europe, have been vital discussion points among Caribbean leaders.
An important and symbolic step in recognizing the value of the Caribbean was the move by Francis to appoint two new Cardinals from the Caribbean in 2014, Cardinal Chibly Langlois of Haiti and Cardinal Kevin Felix of St Lucia.
The Catholic population in the Caribbean is not insignificant throughout the islands as generations of Catholics, dating back to the colonial period under Spanish and French rule, continue to practice their faith vibrantly throughout the region.
While seeking to make sure that the Catholic Church represented views from all corners of the globe, Pope Francis injected excitement into the Catholic Caribbean population.
The focus for the poor and marginalized can also been seen in his latest papal encyclical Laudato Si.
In this work, Pope Francis criticizes the materialistic, consumerist culture that has ingrained itself into so many parts of the world and calls on all people to fight the negative effects of global climate change which, he points out, disproportionately affect the impoverished.
Not only does that message ring true in a region that has to fight the ill-effects of poverty from Port-au-Prince to Port of Spain, but the concurrent call to action on the issue of climate change and correlated sea-level rise has been a consistent talking point for leaders from across the Caribbean due the devastating effects even a small change in sea-level could have on these island nations.
If that wasn’t enough, it was Pope Francis and his associates in Rome who were fundamental in helping to usher in a new era in US-Cuban relations.
After decades of strife and animosity, diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States are on the mend as the two nations officially reopened embassies in each country this week.
This rapprochement, which had been advocated for repeatedly over the years at the Summit of the Americas, in CARICOM, and elsewhere, is finally starting to take shape because of the abilities of Pope Francis to serve as an honest broker between the two sides.
Subsequently, before traveling to the United States in September, Francis will be visiting the Caribbean with a stop in Cuba.
While no one will define the papacy of Francis as one concerned with the welfare of the Caribbean specifically, his actions on issues of importance in the region will no doubt have an impact that engenders goodwill between the Caribbean and the Vatican.
He may not be the Caribbean’s 1st pope, but Francis has quite a bit that the people of the Caribbean can be excited about.
Michael W Edghill has taught courses on US Government and on Latin America & the Caribbean. He is completing his MA in Government with a thesis on Thomas Aquinas’s Just War Theory as applied to the drug wars in Latin America and the Caribbean. He is currently the principal of Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls, Texas.