MEXICO CITY, April 19 -- The selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church drew mixed reaction across Latin America and Africa. Political and church leaders issued warm statements of congratulations, but many people also said they felt a tinge of disappointment that the new pontiff did not come from the Third World.
Europeans also reflected generational and social divisions in their responses to the choice of Ratzinger, a German; some older and more traditional Catholics hailed the decision, while some younger and more progressive church members expressed concern that Benedict XVI would stall movement toward modernizing reforms in the church.
In interviews across the developing world, people from Mexico to Nigeria urged the new pope to use his position to work on issues most important to them, including poverty, AIDS, violence, hunger and refugees. Many noted that Pope John Paul II had been a frequent visitor to poor regions, a trend they hoped Benedict would continue.
"We're a little sad, because I think all Mexicans wanted a pope from Latin America," said Eusebio Dominguez, 34, standing near the cathedral in Mexico City's main square. "But we hope that even though the new pope is European, he will be a friend of Mexico and understand its problems, such as poverty, the way John Paul II did. We expect a lot from him."
News of the selection was greeted by a standing ovation in the Mexican Congress. President Vicente Fox congratulated the new pope, saying, "I tell him we are on his side, that we want to build and keep growing this magnificent, extraordinary relationship that has been built between our country and the Vatican."
Fox extended a "permanent invitation" for Benedict to visit Mexico, a country John Paul visited five times and where about 90 percent of the population is Catholic. The governments of El Salvador and Nicaragua, where the Catholic Church was often seen as an enemy by authoritarian governments during civil wars in the 1970s and 1980s, also issued statements congratulating the new pope.
Daniel Gutierrez, an academic researcher who specializes in religious studies at the Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City, said some Latin American Catholics might feel "a little abandoned" by the selection of a European. He said John Paul placed a high priority on the region, which is home to 450 million of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.
The new pope "needs to continue the trend of being close to the region," Gutierrez said. "If he doesn't do that in the first or second year of his papacy, then the risk of people feeling abandoned will be much greater."
Gutierrez said the selection of Ratzinger, who recently turned 78, could mean a much shorter papacy than the reign of John Paul, who was 58 when he became pope. "It opens the door for a short papacy, which could be a preamble for a Latin American pope," he said.
In Buenos Aires, the capital, many Catholics expressed a mixture of disappointment and resignation at the choice of Ratzinger.
"We knew it was going to turn out this way," said Miriam Sandoval, 34, who owns a dry cleaner's. "Some were hoping it would be someone from Latin America, but . . . the church is not going to move forward and function correctly if we all start arguing that it should have been an Argentine pope or a Bolivian pope or whoever. We have a new pope now, and we all need to embrace him."
Maximo Gainza, 81, a retired newspaper editor, said he thought Ratzinger would make a good pope, adding that Latin America's problems should be solved by its political leaders. "We have lousy governments," he said. "It has nothing to do with the church."
Virginia Herrera, 27, who works in a pharmacy, said she would have preferred a pope who had "different views" than John Paul. "We were all hoping it would be a Latin American pope, but it didn't happen, and there's nothing we can do about it." Some Argentines recalled that Ratzinger had disciplined Latin American priests who embraced liberation theology in the 1970s to fight social injustice and military dictatorships. "This is a triumph for the dogmatic, capitalist right," said Ruben Dri, a professor of theology at the University of Buenos Aires.
There were expressions of support for the new pope in Brazil, the world's largest Roman Catholic country, where evangelical Christian groups have made recent inroads. Brazil also has been a center of liberation theology, a church-based movement that began organizing among the poor in the 1970s and 1980s. The new pontiff and John Paul opposed the participation of clerics in the movement, objecting that they sometimes took radical, even Marxist, political stands.