Yesterday, the Catholic Church welcomed a new Leader, Cardinal Jorge Bergogilo. Though I am not a Catholic, I am an interested observer of all the conclave festivities. Beyond the historical relevance and the cool clothing, I am interested because “Habemus Papam,” the declaration spoken over the new Pope, was proclaimed over a man from the Global South.

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Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The reason I think this matters is because the West has been the sole voice for Christianity for too long. Phillip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom, writes of the growth of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and South America, Global South.  He says, “We may be witnesses to a decline of the white, wealthy version of Christianity. As the Christian center of gravity has shifted to Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the typical contemporary Christian might be better represented by a poor, female living in a third world village.”

Although the face of Christianity is changing, the leading voices have largely been the same. The voices of the Global South have not been heard. The conclave, however, has changed that at least a little bit.

Now, I know this Pope is conservative, draws his lineage from Italy, and might not bring great reform, but I hope a precedence is set. I hope more of the great minds of the Global South are invited to tables of leadership. Catholics and Protestants, Ministers and Academics need to welcome the Christian voices from Africa, Asia, South America as well as other outside voices.

The beauty of the Christian story is God uses a multitude of voices to proclaim the good news. One of the hallmarks of the Church is communal discernment; we are at our best when more voices are heard. This new voice in the Catholic Church might signal a change in our context. Maybe our congregations will welcome new and surprising voices.

Acts 2:17 says, “In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophecy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

The white smoke has billowed from the Sistine Chapel with news of a new voice. May our congregations follow suit and welcome new and surprising voices. May we hear the voices of women and the poor and the young and the old and the strangers and all the voices that have been silenced for far too long. 

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