Published March 07, 2013
As the Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Odilo Pedro Scherer bears the tremendous responsibility of being the face of the Church in the world's most populous Catholic nation.
Born to German immigrant parents in the Brazilian city of San Francisco, Cerro Largo, Scherer, 63, is the youngest of the Latin American cardinals considered possibilities to become the next pope.
Scherer is also one of the few cardinals with a Twitter account — @DomOdiloScherer — and though he doesn’t send out daily dispatches, he has amassed 22,500 followers.
His age could prove to be a double-edged sword with those who think he lacks sufficient seasoning for the top job. Conversely, some of the cardinals who will select the next pope may be looking for a man who can be expected to lead the Church for decades, as did Pope John Paul II.
Either way, Scherer comes from a country where an estimated 79 percent of the population – 145 million people – have been baptized Catholics. The next largest Catholic country, Mexico, with 123 million, does not appear to have a realistic candidate for pope among its clergy.
Despite being a Catholic bedrock, Brazil is losing ground quickly to a surge of evangelical Protestant churches. The percentage of Catholics is down from more than 90 percent in 1970, according to the Brazilian Census. Religious non-affiliation has also spiked from 0.7 percent to 7.3 percent in the last two decades, according to the Institute of Geography and Statistics, a Brazilian governmental agency.
"The choice of a Brazilian pope could offer a massive shot in the arm to the church in a country destined to be one of the world's emerging superpowers in the 21st century," wrote John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter.
Allen, however, points to some potential flaws to Scherer’s resume, such as his lack of international profile, his ability to compellingly sell the Catholic message to a global audience and concerns about how effective he has been reacting to the surge of Evangelicals in Brazil.
Scherer succeeded Cardinal Claudio Hummes as Archbishop of Sao Paulo in 2007 and just eight months later. was ordained a cardinal by Pope John Benedict XVI. Hummes, once himself considered papabile retired from active service in 2010 after serving his final years in Rome.
Shortly after becoming the seventh archbishop of Brazil’s largest metropolitan area, Scherer was appointed by Benedict to the powerful Congregation for the Clergy and was one of the first members of the newly created Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
The New Evangelization Council is in charge of overseeing Benedict's new program, meant to battle the secularization taking place in countries with Catholic footholds like the United States and Brazil. The Brazilian has been outspoken in lamenting the “evangelization deficit” around the world and his prominent role on the council could be a decisive factor during the conclave. He has also firmly rejected the movement known as “liberation theology” which swept across Latin America in the 1980s and tried to push Church affiliation with secular politics radically to the left.
"Scherer is right in the center as far as his theology," Rev. Robert Pelton, the Director of Latin American/North American Church Concerns at the University of Notre Dame's Kellogg Institute, told Fox News Latino.
While viewed as neither extremely conservative or liberal, he has established himself as firmly pro-life and pro-environment, especially when it comes to the Amazonian region of Brazil.
For continuing coverage from the Vatican be sure to join the conversation on Twitter at #hope4pope.