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The Catholic Church is a global church. And for the 1.2 billion adherents to the faith worldwide, it is a decisive moment. The faithful are looking to a new pope to bring a time of healing — and better governance — to a church tarnished by scandal and deeply divided.

For a new pope, issues of a global church

With Africa, Asia and Latin America now representing two-thirds of the world's Catholics, many faithful want a more global pope.

prostitution, having come primarily from Romania and Nigeria. Italy has 150 convents sheltering women who fled the sex trade.      

The Rome-based International Network of Consecrated Life Against Trafficking in Persons has 21 networks in 82 nations with some 600 sisters working to counter act human trafficking.       

Between 21 and 27 million people are enslaved across the globe, according to Loyola University of New Orleans Professor Laura Murphy, the author of Metaphor and the Slave Trade.

“The majority are in India and Africa, but people who are made vulnerable by poverty and inequality around the world are at risk of accepting offers of employment that are too often exploitative,” said Murphy. “Slavery is illegal in every country and practiced in every country.”                         

Catholic Charities USA has a $2.5 million budget devoted to human trafficking. Murphy considers it “one of the most important organizations in working with people who have escaped, proving survivors with services they need to work through the trauma of enslavement and find productive lives in freedom.

As the Catholic Church becomes more deeply rooted in countries with major issues of poverty, the next pope will invariably confront issues of inequality as globalization cuts a deeper chasm between wealth and poverty.                   

India, for example, has 1.24 billion people. Catholics in India account for only 1.6 percent of the population, or 17 million people; but the church is growing at a faster rate than the population, and by 2050 could reach 30 million Catholics, according to The Future Church by John L. Allen, Jr.       

For all of its expanding class of hi-tech workers, India has 300 million mired in poverty — 25 percent of its population. For her work with the poor in Calcutta. Mother Teresa was the second private citizen to receive a state funeral, in 1997, after Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. A disproportionate number of Catholics are from the Dalit caste, know as the untouchables. Allen reports that “between 60 and 75 percent of Indian Catholics are untouchables, who often see Christianity as a means of protesting the caste system and of affiliating with a social network to buffer its affects.”     

Six of India’s 156 bishops are Dalits, the lowest caste. Imagine the impact of the first Dalit to become a cardinal.         

The buzzword within the Vatican for greater focus on the world’s poor is “evangelization.” Although Benedict XVI spoke eloquently of carrying the gospel to distant corners of the globe, he was not like John Paul a pilgrim pope.

That role will be a litmus test for Father Míceál O’Neill, an Irish Carmelite prior in Rome who was a missionary pastor in Peru in the 1980s.      

Whereas Benedict stressed orthodoxy as an overarching theme of his papacy, Father O’Neill hopes for a pope to foster a language that addresses development in a spiritual as well as economic sense. “No pope is going to make major changes in moral teaching but things could change a lot if the pope emphasizes a church that is worldwide and offices in Rome don’t have all the truth,” said O’Neill.      

Inculturation — the idea of the Mass absorbing cultural traditions of a given people — as John Paul said, “in its ardor,” has been largely ignored by the Vatican in the last decade. Instead, Vatican-mandated changes to language of the Mass have supplanted “one in being with the Father” with the nearly unpronounceable, “consubstantial with the Father.”         

O’Neill sees such changes as extending a pattern of Vatican bureaucratic obsessions that are tone-deaf to the lives of people in the pews.       

“The liturgy in Congo was a great example,” he explains, referencing the way dance rhythms fused with sacred music, as in the famous record Missa Luba. “Those rituals bring out truths of the faith. The language of the local church takes the lead from Rome but finds its own way to bring out the gospel in its own history and culture.”

“The idea of a traveling pope, moving and interacting among the peoples of the world," O'Neill said, "is one I would find very positive.”

GlobalPost religion writer Jason Berry is author of Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church.