The appointment of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the head of the Catholic Church sets a number of "firsts" for the religious world. As the first pope selected from South America and the first to select the name Francis, Bergoglio's historic moment sets the stage for a new journey for a church in deep need of reformation, young outreach and world relevancy.
But could this confirm the Latinization of the Catholic Church? The numbers certainly suggest so. Latin America accounts for 41.3% of the total Catholic population and Hispanic-Americans account for 30% of the total Catholic population in the U.S. In fact, 62% of all 50 million U.S. Hispanics are Catholic, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Center. But the numbers are even more impressive when these growth trends are backed up with leadership that reflects their constituency. Fifteen percent of priests ordained in the United States are Latinos, which is closely representative of the U.S. Hispanic population which is 16% of total population according to the U.S. Census.
Sounds familiar? Have we not all heard already about Latinos fueling growth? Indeed. The last few years have played like a broken record with countless U.S. Census results, the 2012 Election results, immigration talks and even the Latinization of the GOP to show how the demographics have shifted--and now a Latino Pope! While the facts and figures certainly elevate the importance of the newly elected pope and his relevancy for the church and its community, this historic election may serve as yet one more reminder for corporate CEO’s and even the Republican party of the importance and opportunity this community represent.
The church was willing to not only elect a qualified man, but one who could deliver relevancy and value while aligning to the size and growth trends, needs of its constituency and much required foresight knowing what and who is poised to sustain growth. While the church still has its fair share of challenges surrounding the role of women in the church and other diversity matters, this appointment certainly speaks volume of the role Latin America and Latinos represent for the organization.
So, who could draw some insights from the appointment of Pope Francis? For example, corporate America still dabbles over the importance to invest or elect professionals qualified to reach the market that represents 56% of total U.S. population growth, growing at a 43% rate: Hispanics. Beyond good intentions and diversity programs, the numbers still demonstrate a lack of true commitment with overall investment to reach Hispanics barely in the single digits and almost no representation in positions of leadership. Hispanics only comprise about 3.28% of board members and less than 1% of C-level executives.
In politics, Latinos also made their mark, helping President Obama’s re-election with a 71% to 27% difference versus the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. As a result, the months following his defeat has called for a revival and Latinization of the Republican party. Once again, the facts and figures don’t lie. The party has hit a record low with only 22% of Americans considering themselves Republican, mostly due to an aging, non-diverse and shrinking base. On the other side, Hispanics represent a young and vibrant community of 24 million eligible voters increasing at a 26% rate in the last four years. It is evident the Latino vote has graduated from simply being influential to essential. Obama, for example, outspent Romney 12 to 1 in Spanish media and his grassroots events help build the relationships and personal connection the community seeks and values.
Will the lesson be learned? While we carefully divide the world of church and state, this is a case in which the unexpected election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has not only rekindled hope for a world church in need but also served as a reminder and sparker of progressive thinking for many other organizations that may also need a shake up to sustain and grow with the fastest growing community in the nation.