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Could new pope bring Brazilian hat trick?

First the World Cup, then the Olympics, now Brazil’s Odilo Scherer could be the first Latin American pontiff
Last modified: 4 Mar 2013 23:46

There is growing speculation that Odilo Scherer, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Sao Paulo, could very likely become the first pope from Latin America. 

This isn't just wishful thinking from Brazil. It’s what is being reported by some people in Rome who cover the Vatican on a daily basis. 

Over the weekend, Gerard O’Connell and Andrea Tornielli, who are widely considered two of the best-sourced Vatican journalists,  reported in La Stampa that powerful forces within the Catholic Church in Rome are promoting a "ticket" of sorts with Scherer becoming pope and an Argentine or Italian cardinal taking on a strong number two "secretary of state" position.

(On a side note, if Scherer becomes pope and an Argentine his number two, how would you like to be the fly on the wall in the pope's personal TV room as the two watched Brazil and Argentina play against one another in the 2014 World Cup?) 

Adding to the speculation, John L Allen Jr, the longtime senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and author of seven books about the Catholic Church, also tweeted that his sources are telling him there is a push for Scherer. 

A closer look at Scherer's biography makes the early buzz understandable. 

He's the archbishop of the third-largest Roman Catholic congregation in the world in the largest Catholic country in the world. 

He is Brazilian, born in the small town of Cerro Largo (population 12,861), in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. The town is a good six-hour drive from the state capital, Porto Alegre, and only 50km from the border with Argentina. 

But his family emigrated from Germany, and Scherer keeps close ties to his European heritage. The thinking is that this Brazilian/German mix will appease the developing world as well as the European wing of the church. 

His ties to the church hierarchy run deep, having spent 1994-2001 posted in the Vatican, so he knows how the game is played at company headquarters.

He's young at 63, and accepting of the trappings of modernity. (He's no stranger to social media, tweeting under the handle @DomOdiloScherer).

When compared to more conservative Cardinals around the world, Scherer comes off as more outward looking. 

Inside ultra-socially-liberal Brazil, however, Scherer cuts a more conservative image. He is stridently against abortion, and not afraid to remind people when asked.  

Scherer keeps a remarkably low profile in Brazil for a man of such high stature within the church. Padre Marcelo Rossi, a fellow religious leader, is something of a pop star who last November opened a $3m mega-temple in Sao Paulo that reportedly will be able to accommodate 100,000 . Rossi and Leonardo Boff, a liberation theologian, both garner a lot more attention than Scherer within Brazil. 

In fact, if Scherer is selected as the next pope, many Brazilians would be just as puzzled as everyone else around the world about exactly who he is. 

If pretending you don't want the job is advantageous to getting the job, Scherer has the post locked up. The few times he has been asked by Brazilian media if he would want to be pope, he has respectfully declined the overtures, saying his focus is squarely on the Sao Paulo archdiocese.

I am not foolish enough to pretend to know who the next pope will be.

But I do remember vividly in 2007 when Brazil was bidding for the World Cup and Olympics Games. There was always a bit of skepticism here that the country would get either one. Eventually, momentum built, cynicism faded, and in the end, it all felt right, at the right moment. It was Brazil's moment. Twice. 

Sitting in Sao Paulo these days, the build-up to the selection of the next pope feels very similar in some ways: Skepticism…momentum…cynicism fades…it all feels right…and now what?

True, let's not get ahead of ourselves. After all, the Catholic Church is an institution steeped in tradition.

I wouldn't be surprised if Scherer isn't selected, but, at this point, I also wouldn't be stunned if he is.

To the good people of that little town of Cerro Largo, all I can say is "Brace yourself".

Just in case. 

Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @elizondogabriel