New Pope Reflects Spanish-Speaking Catholics' Importance to the Church

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2009 file photo,Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, right, greets faithful outside the San Cayetano church in Buenos Aires, Argentina. On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Bergoglio was elected pope, the first ever from the Americas and the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium. He chose the name PopeFrancis. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File) Date : August 07, 2009 07:55:48 AM Source: AP  (National Journal)

The selection of Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, a 76-year-old Jesuit who is an advocate for the poor, as the first pontiff from outside Europe should please many U.S. Catholics, almost 30 percent of whom are of Hispanic or Latino heritage.

Of seven news organizations surveyed about the selection process prior to the conclave, only two — the Associated Press and NBC — had listed the Jesuit cardinal from Buenos Aires as a possible pontiff.

A Reuters interactive that rated the possibilities did not even include the priest now called Francis I.

Early analysis of the selection of Bergoglio, born in Argentina to an Italian railroad worker and his wife, indicates he may be a compromise candidate who was runner-up to the cardinal who became Benedict in the last conclave, but Francis is certain to please many Spanish-speaking Catholics.

Argentina's last census placed its total population at 37 million, 70 percent of which are Catholic.

A Population Reference Bureau map, which shows its most recent numbers (from 2004) and projections through 2050, indicates that Latin America and the Caribbean as a collective region is 83 percent Catholic; South America has almost 455 million Catholics, or 42 percent of the world's total number.