Next week, Pope Francis, the first of his name, returns to the continent of his birth. The first Latin American Pope—elected earlier this year—will call on the world’s most populous Catholic country, Brazil. Francis, formerly the Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, has already surprised many Vatican observers with his zeal to shake up the traditional workings of the Holy See. He has eschewed traditional luxuries, set about tackling corruption within the Vatican’s bureaucracy, fast-tracked the sainthood confirmations of former pontiffs and championed the cause of downtrodden, desperate migrants. But, as Howard Chua-Eoan, TIME’s former News Director, writes, Francis faces an epochal battle when he arrives in Latin America: in Brazil and elsewhere in what was once Catholicism’s impregnable heartland, the Church is losing ground. From this week’s International cover story:
Brazil may prove to be a showcase for the powers of this humble Pope and the fresh face he is putting on the ancient papacy. In this, the most populous of Catholic countries on the most Catholic of continents, he faces in microcosm the challenges the church is confronted with around the world: the magnetism of Protestant evangelism and the temptations of secular culture. And it is in this enormous Latin American nation that the Pope of the poor may just begin to have the destabilizing influence that John Paul II had in Eastern Europe: to turn the tide against the rivals of the church and re-establish its primacy in places where it once held incontestable sway.