Before being elected as the first ever Latin American pope, on March 23, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio had spent 76 years almost continuously in Latin America. He acknowledged this in his opening greeting, saying he had been chosen from “the ends of the earth.”
It was an unprecedented event in the 2,000 year history of the Church. (Another milestone was that a Jesuit had been elected bishop of Rome), but over the years it has proved to be anything but secondary. Indeed, in various ways it has had consequences that place it on a higher level than that of being merely incidental.
In fact, in the first eight years of Pope Francis’ pontificate, his previous existential experiences have not only shown themselves as the fruit, conscious and active or unconscious and passive, of his long years spent in Latin America, but have also given rise to an undoubted benefit: the legacy of a rich body of speeches that the pope has produced in, for and from the Latin American region.
Those 76 years lived in Argentina, replete with pastoral, educational and episcopal ties, more or less explicitly deepened his knowledge of the Latin American regional context. They appear today as the fabric that supports and informs many of the messages the pope has addressed to that region, and also to the rest of the world.
In this context, among the most innovative themes that run through the pope’s speeches, concern and interest stand out for what we could broadly call “processes of regional integration.” While on the one hand Francis has stated on more than one occasion his appreciation for the historical forces that contributed to the moves to unify the Old Continent, and commends the commitment of those whom he calls “the founding fathers” of the European Union, he has also had words of support for the processes of Latin American integration.
The conceptual perspective from which the pope looks at integration beyond the short-term reversals that have characterized the continuous oscillation of Latin American politics. What he said, in reference to the importance he attaches to the unity of the continent, hints at an extensive body of knowledge acquired over nearly eight decades spent in the region, whether deliberately, through specific readings, or less consciously, a body of insights which we might trace back to that historical culmination of regional thinking on the subject that spanned the 1960s and 1970s.
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