For decades the prospect of a pope from outside Europe has both excited and alarmed observers of the Roman Catholic Church. As the number of Catholics has grown steadily in the Global South, the continuing domination of the church by European prelates has seemed ever more unjust. By 2030 nearly 80 percent of the world’s Catholics will live in Africa, Asia, or Latin America, and Africa will be home to more Catholics than Europe itself. Is such a church to be headed forever by those from Western Europe, a region rapidly succumbing to secularism?

The shift was going to come, and when it did, no country was better suited to provide the pathbreaker than Argentina. Finally we see a pope who can claim to speak for Latin America and the non-European world. For Catholics of the Global South, the symbolic move is decisive and probably marks the start of an indefinite sequence of non-European popes.

A daring thought: Might Benedict XVI earn his place in the encyclopedias chiefly as the last European pope?