New Pope Signals Latino Shift for Catholic Church

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In perhaps a momentary premonition, however, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said during a news conference after the announcement of Benedict XVI's resignation that "the church in the developing world, like South America, like Africa, is of great joy and momentum and of numbers. ... Therefore, attentiveness to the developing churches is going to be, I'm sure, on the docket of the cardinals as we meet for the conclave."

Amid their fervent faith, Catholics in the developing world have shown great interest in where the next pope will come from and whether the pope could come from among their ranks.

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That attentiveness to the selection of the next pope, Dinardo said, "says something about the growing importance of that world" to the Catholic Church.

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Even in the modern United States, the church plays a bigger part in the daily lives of Latinos than with the rest of the country. A 2012 Pew Hispanic Center survey looking only at Hispanic Americans found 62 percent of Latinos cited Catholicism as their "religious affiliation," compared to only 23 percent of the general public.

"When it comes to Latinos and their role, their presence has been growing," said Mark Lopez, associate director of Pew Research Hispanic Center.

Today, Lopez said, Hispanics comprise more than a third of the all United States Catholics -- a number projected to rise to 41 percent by 2030, a 2007 Pew survey found.

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The Catholic Association of Latino Leaders said in a statement to ABC News that the selection of a Latin American pope "will further unify Latino Catholics living in the United States."

As the new pope said good night, in perhaps a minor slip, or a nod to his home, Pope Francis said "buenas tardes," in Spanish, before correcting it to "buona notte" -- the Italian version of the phrase.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect findings by Pew that Europe's percentage of worldwide Catholics has dropped by more than half over the past century. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the number of European Catholics has shrunk by more than half.

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