Venezuelan leader: In death Chavez had hand in choosing pope

This April 14, 2002 file photo shows Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holding a crucifix as he addresses the nation from the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuela's acting president suggested that Hugo Chavez's recent death influenced the decision to choose a pontiff from Latin America.

"The debate was between an African and a South American pope," Nicolas Maduro said, after taking part in a group prayer at a book fair in Caracas.

"I don't know, but we know that our commander ascended to those heights and he's face-to-face with Christ," said Maduro. "He had an influence for the choosing of a South American pope. Some new hand came in and Christ declared: 'Well, South America's time has come'."

Latin America is home to some 40 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

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  • While Venezuelan politicians spoke of divine intervention, some lawmakers in Argentina were not about to let the election of an Argentinean to head the Catholic Church -- the first South American pope in history -- to sway them from honoring Chavez.

    As the Argentinean newspaper Clarin reports (in Spanish), a dispute broke out in the Chamber of Deputies over whether to end a ceremony for the deceased Venezuelan president in order to mark the ascension of Buenos Aires' Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy.

    The left-leaning Front for Victory party -- which leads the chamber -- opted to continue, while right-leaning opposition members pushed for a recess in order to hear Pope Francis' first remarks.

    Chavez supporters won out, and continued their homage. As Clarin noted, by that time most of the opposition seats were empty.

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