Pope taps Protestant friend to carry his voice in Argentina

Pope taps Protestant friend to carry his voice in Argentina

Pope taps Protestant friend to carry his voice in Argentina

Marcelo Figueroa with Pope Francis, during one of the many encounters the two have shared in Rome. (Alfa y Omega)

Pope Francis's words are subject to scrutiny and spin everywhere, but probably no place more than his native Argentina. To bypass the filters Francis is launching an Argentine version of the Vatican newspaper, and to run it he's turned to old friend who's also a Protestant theologian.

ROME— In an attempt to ensure that his messages arrive in his home country as they were intended, without any filter or spin, Pope Francis has authorized an Argentine version of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper.

And to get the job done, the maverick pontiff has once again made an “outside the box” choice, turning to a Protestant theologian and longtime friend named Marcelo Figueroa.

“The idea was born from the constant dialogue Francis and I have, as friends,” Figueroa told Crux over the phone Tuesday.

The project will utilize the Spanish version of L’Osservatore, which comes out once a week – every Friday in its online version, and Saturdays in print – as the backbone of content. The global edition of the newspaper is supervised by Italian layman Giovanni Maria Vian, and directed by Argentine Silvina Pérez.

The Argentine version, which will begin in September, will carry four to eight pages of exclusive content, mostly opinion, analysis and commentary of the pope’s activity with an Argentine angle. Beyond Figueroa, it’ll be supervised by the local bishops’ conference.

“We want to spread Francis’ universal, pastoral work, in a way that reaches every Argentine,” Figueroa said.

It was Francis’ who chose Figueroa, a longtime friend with whom the pope once had a TV show at the Buenos Aires’ diocesan channel, together with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, to manage the content for the local version.

The program, called “Bible, current dialogue,” was only one of the many projects Figueroa and then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio worked on together.

The Protestant leader and former head of Argentina’s Biblical Society also said that the local edition of L’Osservatore, the first ever to produce exclusive content regularly, will include not only prominent Catholic figures such as Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, rector of Argentina’s Catholic University, but also members of other religions, highlighting Francis’s ecumenical and interreligious efforts.

On his appointment, Figueroa said he’s “not surprised” by the pope’s “grand gesture,” seeing it as a sign of continuity with the Bergoglio with whom he collaborated on the TV show.

However, the theologian and biblical expert is well aware that we will now have the responsibility of amplifying the pope’s voice in his home country, where it’s often subject to competing and politically charged interpretations.

Although Figueroa insists that the project is “not against anyone, but in favor of the pope’s voice,” it’s hasn’t escaped notice that it was announced only weeks after Francis told an Argentine newspaper that he has no spokesperson in Argentina.

“I believe that those who want to listen to the pope’s voice, following his pastoral work, with some additional commentary, will be enriched by our edition,” Figueroa said. “I believe it’ll be good for the soul of every Argentine, to follow carefully the voice of who today is the world’s most relevant spiritual leader.”

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