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Venezuela's acting president Nicolas Maduro joked on Wednesday that late leftist president Hugo Chavez's recent death must have played into the selection of the first Latin American pope.
"We know that our commander has risen up there and is face to face with Christ," Maduro said, to an outburst of laughter at a political event, just over a week after Chavez died following 14 years in charge of Venezuela.
"Something must have influenced things so that a South American pope was chosen. Some new hand arrived and got to Christ and said: It is South America's time. That's what I think," Maduro, Chavez' handpicked successor, declared.
"One of these days he is going to call a constitutional congress in heaven to change the church in the world, so that the people, only Christ's pure people rule in this world," he predicted.
Argentina's Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio was earlier elected Pope Francis, becoming the first Latin American pontiff in a surprise decision that was welcomed across the continent and cheered many who were mourning Chavez.