BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- A new pope from Latin America who wants to build "a church for the poor" is stirring hopes among advocates of liberation theology, a movement of social activism that alarmed former popes by delving into leftist politics.
Pope Francis has what it takes to fix a church "in ruins" that has "lost its respect for what is sacred," prominent liberation theologian Leonardo Boff said Saturday.
"With this pope, a Jesuit and a pope from the Third World, we can breathe happiness," Boff said at a Buenos Aires book fair. "Pope Francis has both the vigour and tenderness that we need to create a new spiritual world."
The 74-year-old Brazilian theologian was pressured to remain silent by previous popes who tried to draw a hard line between socially active priests and leftist politics. As Argentina's leading cardinal before he became pope, Francis reinforced this line, suggesting in 2010 that reading the Gospel with a Marxist interpretation only gets priests in trouble.
But Boff says the label of a closed-minded conservative simply doesn't fit with Francis.
"Pope Francis comes with the perspective that many of us in Latin America share. In our churches we do not just discuss theological theories, like in European churches. Our churches work together to support universal causes, causes like human rights, from the perspective of the poor, the destiny of humanity that is suffering, services for people living on the margins."
The liberation theology movement, which seeks to free lives as well as souls, emerged in the 1960s and quickly spread, especially in Latin America. Priests and church laypeople became deeply involved in human rights and social struggles. Some were caught up in clashes between repressive governments and rebels, sometimes at the cost of their lives.
Hundreds of advocates at a conference in Brazil last year declared themselves ready for a comeback.
"At times embers are hidden beneath the ashes," said the meeting's final declaration, which expressed hopes of stirring ablaze "a fire that lights other fires in the church and in society."
In 1984, Ratzinger put Boff in Galileo's chair for a Vatican inquisition over his writings, eventually stripping him of his church functions and ordering him to spend a year in "obedient silence." Nearly a decade later, in 1993, the Vatican pressured him again, and he quit the Franciscan order.
Now Boff says Francis has brought a "new spring" to the global church.
"Josef Ratzinger. He was against the cause of the poor, liberation theology," Boff said. "But this is from last century. Now we are under a new Pope."
-- The Associated Press