Like most scholars involved in the study of Latino/a religion, I have been asked about the ongoing papal conclave and who I would like to see come out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“What is the new Pope going to do about the growth of Latino/a pentecostals and evangelicals in the Americas? What do you think he ought to do? Do you think a Latino Pope will stem the tide away from the Church?” I waited a bit and offered an answer that I am sure he was not ready to hear. ‘I think a Latino Pope would be great!’ I’d love to see that, and I think religious competition is great–inevitably it makes all parties stay vibrant and avoid stagnation.’ But that is not the only reason I care about a Latino Pope, I–unlike many of my fellow religious travelers, actually have always found the Roman Catholic Church to be similar to the oversimplified but still metaphorically useful right-brain/left brain thinking–one simply cannot function as well without both halves.
Having been raised Catholic, I have no animus towards the Church, in fact, its rituals, rites of passage, and aural memories are always present in my life. Especially during Lent, it is hard for me to get the smell of camarones out of my head. Who’d thought re-constituted shrimp cakes battered and fried in egg would be so memorable? I usually ate them to get to the capirotada,(Mexican bread pudding), which should be enough to convince many of my evangelico friends, that one should try Lent–if only for the bread pudding. In fact, the Church is vibrant a part of my life–its history and traditions are things I study and teach–I find something new and exciting about Catholicism more now that I am no longer a part of its everyday rhythms than when I was a casual practitioner.
The Left-Brain part of my religious life enjoys the rigorous intellectual traditions of Aquinas, Augustine, Merton, and Gonzalez. I think critically about my faith because I was raised by a culturally Catholic family who encouraged me to wrestle with things like theodicy, suffering, and injustice–that part of me did not disappear when I chose to explore the Right-Brain part of my faith in Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism’s intuitive, emotional, and expressive characteristics complement who I am–at least up to now they have. Faith is fluid–to claim a static unchanging faith–whether it has come from my Catholic “friends” who are just waiting for me to come to my senses and get over this fad–or my Pentecostal “friends” who are waiting for me to come to my senses and rid myself of the vestiges of “Romanism” are reductions of faith without any historical precedent–it also doesn’t make any sense. But it does promote the idea that religionists with vested interests want to impress on people–that their choices are not grounded in temporal concerns, but inspired by God–and thus should not be subject to the vicissitudes of culture, politics, and social change. So, yeah, I refuse to abandon that part of me that shapes how I think about politics, how I think about culture, the faith that sustains my family and many of my friends. Perhaps Latino/a Pentecostals should be rooting for a Latino Pope as well–it may go a long ways to ending the enmity and suspicion on both sides. Newsflash–nearly every religious group in the world “steals sheep”–that is why they are selling their wares in the religious marketplace. To quote one of my favorite scenes in film: Alec Baldwin yelling at weary Willy Loman’s of the world in “Glenngarry Glen Ross” “ABC–Always Be Closing!!!” The fact that there is competition among religious groups may be distasteful to some who love to think that people make decisions about faith without input from their surrounding environments–and yes, that they sometimes make these decisions while choosing to hold onto previous beliefs and practices–even though those beliefs and practices that clash with their newly adopted faith. So, really neither Catholicism or Protestantism of any stripe have been untouched by the hybridizations of how people create their faith–probably time for Latino Pentecostals here and especially in Latin America to stop pretending that Roman Catholicism sullied by “syncretism” requires some sort of Protestant cleansing that will inoculate it from such messy intermingling. Have you seen a Pentecostal service lately? In between the prosperity gospel affirmation cards, the tongues-speaking and deliverance time–its tough to find the unfiltered faith of the Reformers in any of that pneumatic bricolage.
So, I am waiting for a Latino Pope, why? Because a continent that sustains much of the Catholic population in the world today–born in a “violent evangelism” that crushed its First Nations must eventually reckon with its past. Perhaps the next Pope will do so? Or at least he will have some impetus to do so as a representative of that troubled legacy of mestizaje. I’m going to wait for the white smoke like the rest of you, I am going to see if my phone buzzes when and if a Latino Pope is chosen–and see if I hear my mom on the other end ask me one more time “Mija, El Papá es Latino! so are you coming to la Misa en español or English?”