Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a humble seminary student from Buenos Aires, was unaware while he was studying theology that his revolutionary worldviews would go on to influence the future of Latin American politics.
Bergoglio, the son of Italian emigrants who fled to Argentina during the advent of Mussolini’s fascism, became Pope Francis last March and has since refashioned the image of the Catholic Church in Latin America.
From denouncing the propagation of rampant and unregulated, free-market capitalism to unabashedly accepting the spiritual redemption of atheists and gays, Pope Francis has shifted the sentiments of the Vatican to the left of the political spectrum.
His respect for the fiscally impoverished and his messages of tolerance for non-traditional lifestyles have caught the attention of political leaders around the world, especially in Latin America. Many countries within that region have historically based gay marriage and abortion legislation on the values of the Catholic Church.
While Pope Francis might not be in total compliance with all aspects of revolutionary leftist politics, his views certainly stray from outdated notions of gender norms, sexuality, and strict adherence to religious principles long promulgated by the notoriously conservative Vatican.
And with a large, predominately Catholic population of poor people who support expanded social and economic welfare programs, Latin America is a naturally receptive place for Pope Francis’ political views, which are expected to become determining factors in upcoming elections.
Pope Francis' reconciliation of religion and socialism, which were divorced from each other as traditional Marxist-Leninist ideology became more popular during the Cold War, represents the resurgence of liberation theology and Christian populism in Latin American politics. Some have even gone as far as saying his politics resemble those of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, whose canonization Pope Francis supports.
Conservative political parties in Latin America headlining candidates with harsh views against homosexuality, social programs for the poor, and the empowerment of women will become increasingly unpopular as many Latin Americans will continue to base their ballot selections on the politics of Pope Francis.
Chile and Honduras will both hold presidential elections at the end of this year, for example, and the candidates with the best polling numbers happen to be those who are strongly supportive of Pope Francis’ political views: Michelle Bachelet of Chile’s Partido Socialista has an approval rating of 84% while Xiomara Castro de Zelaya of Honduras’ Partido Libertad y Refundación leads the race with over 25% of those questioned in a poll saying they would vote for her.
Ultimately, Pope Francis’ left-leaning political views are gaining traction in Latin America and will be crucial in the decision-making process of voters in upcoming elections.