The pope's resignation and Latin's (brief) moment of glory

It may be the biggest news to break in Latin since Julius Caesar's death.

Pope Benedict XVI provided vindication for Latin teachers everywhere on Monday by breaking the news of his upcoming resignation via a speech in the oft-dismissed ancient language:

More satisfying still for those who maintain Latin is not dead, the Huffington Post Italy reports that the news was first broken by a reporter for Italy's ANSA news agency, who apparently beat out journalists from France, Mexico, and Japan thanks to her superior language skills. Giovanna Chirri initially could not reach a Vatican spokesman to confirm the news, AFP reports:

In a heated debate with her editor, the journalist insisted her Latin knowledge was sound and they could alert the news.

Chirri later tweeted, "The #Pope's Latin is very easy to understand," while French reporter Charles De Pechpeyrou told the Huffington Post:

The difficult part was "understanding the Latin," he said. "At a certain point, for example, I caught the word 'incapability' in the pope's speech. I turned around and spoke with my Mexican colleague. We noticed that Pope Benedict had a sad look on his face, not his usual look. Something wasn't right. Then, when cardinal Sodano mentioned the 'sadness,' we finally understood."

The choice of Latin for a major announcement was likely no accident: Benedict has long indicated that he considers a Latin revival important for the future of the Church. In November of last year, he established a Pontifical Academy of Latinity with the goal of promoting  the language, saying in a letter at the time that even among priests and seminarians, the study of Latin has become "more and more superficial." He further demonstrated his determination to take Latin into the modern world in January when he began tweeting in the language. Still, Benedictus PP. XVI has just 17,816 followers so far -- the fewest of any of the pope's nine Twitter accounts. 



Where do the world's Catholics live?

Here's some context for the chatter today about the region of the world that could produce Pope Benedict XVI's successor. According to a 2011 study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, 40 percent of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics currently live in Latin America, and Brazil now has more Catholics (134 million) than Italy, France, and Spain combined. Sub-Saharan Africa, meanwhile, accounts for 16 percent of the world's Catholics, compared with Europe's 24 percent. And the numbers in Africa are growing.

For more, check out Pew's map below (click to expand), which shows the distribution of Catholics in the 80 countries that have more than 1 million adherents.

Reprinted from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, "Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Christian Population," © 2011, Pew Research Center.

The numbers explain why there's now speculation that the Roman Catholic Church could look to Africa, Latin America, or North America for its first non-European leader. As the New York Times notes, the outgoing pope -- only the second non-Italian pontiff since the 16th century -- inherited an institution "run by a largely European hierarchy overseeing a faithful largely residing in the developing world." Changing that dynamic is now in the hands of the 118 cardinals who will soon gather in Rome to choose the next pope. But demographics isn't necessarily destiny.

"All of the questions about nationalities are nonsense," Michael Sean Winters, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, tells CNN today. "There are 118 men and all of them have gotten to know one another.... Their questions are going to be 'who can we see in that chair?'" Another data point to keep in mind? More than half of those 118 cardinals are European.