Challenge in the pope's homeland

Challenge in the pope's homeland

In Argentina, a new evangelical party is trying to gain a place in the political landscape. Target group: in addition to the five million evangelical Christians, also disappointed conservative Catholics.

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the new pope in Rome in March 2013, the leftist government of President Cristina Kirchner (2007-2015) reacted quickly. Although Kirchner was previously considered a critic of the inconvenient archbishop of Buenos Aires, the left-wing populist quickly recognized the opportunity that lay in a good relationship with the first pope from Argentina and Latin America. Diligent helpers therefore had posters put up in the capital the next day that read that the pope is a Peronist. So a representative of the political movement to which Kirchner also feels attached. From then on, Kirchner sought direct contact with the pope, whom she had mostly avoided before, and the relationship improved noticeably.

A noticeable increase in the number of evangelical churches

The conservative opposition greeted this with unease, believing the Catholic Church to be on their side. In the meantime, the tablecloth between Argentine conservatives and Pope Francis has been pretty much cut in half. Two hypothermic receptions of Francis for the conservative successor of Kirchner Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) also contributed to that. In the 2019 election campaign, the Catholic priests for the poor, all of whom are well acquainted with the Pope, publicly backed the left-wing candidate Alberto Fernandez, who clearly won the elections and made Kirchner vice president.

Quite a few conservative Catholics, not only in Argentina but in all of Latin America, feel politically homeless since the change in the political orientation of the church in the region. They disapprove of the pope's sometimes more or less openly expressed sympathy with the left-wing governments and left-wing politicians there and demand a clearer stance on left-wing dictatorships. This is one of the reasons why the predominantly conservative evangelical churches in Latin America have been gaining noticeably in popularity in recent years, especially in neighboring Brazil, where the right-wing president Jair Messias Bolsonaro is exploiting this proximity for his own ends.

New party

In this mixed situation, a group of evangelical pastors and laymen from the Pentecostal churches now wants to establish a new party in the Pope's home country, of all places. It bears the name UNO (Una nueva Oportunidad – a new possibility). It wants to collect those social forces that take arch-conservative positions that the founders believe are shared by the majority of the people. These include a clear no to same-sex marriage and abortion, both regulations have been legalized and liberalized in recent years after heated social debates. "Traditional politicians have failed, and a group of evangelicals have felt the need to get involved politically," party leader and pastor Walter Ghione told the conservative daily Clarin, which is traditionally closer to the Macri camp.

From a political perspective, it is exciting to see whether the camp around Macri, who is now back in opposition, will respond to the UN's advances. Ghione expressed confidence that the new party could win national parliamentary seats in the upcoming elections. Moreover, they are already structurally well positioned in all 14 provinces of Argentina. Particularly in Buenos Aires and Santa Fe, party representatives are hoping for good election results. According to estimates, the number of evangelical Christians in Argentina, although not growing by leaps and bounds, has increased steadily in recent years and, at five million, already makes up a noticeable portion of the country's 45 million citizens.

Meanwhile, Francis, who has not visited the country since his election as pope, upgraded another close Kirchner confidant this week. Lawyer and social activist Juan Grabois is now to advise the Vatican in the Dicastery for the Integral Development of Man, the Pope's "social ministry," according to La Nacion. Grabois previously served on the Vatican Commission for Justice and Peace and was one of Fernandez's most committed supporters in the 2019 campaign.

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