MEXICO CITY - Latin America senses an opportunity to break Europe's grip on the papacy as Pope Benedict's decision on Monday to step down stirs hopes the world's biggest Roman Catholic bloc may finally get to lead the Church.

Home to 42 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Latin America far outweighs Europe's 25 percent, although the Church has for years been losing ground to Protestant and evangelical rivals across the region.

Ever since Rome broke with a longstanding tradition in 1978 by appointing a non-Italian pope, John Paul II, the faithful of Latin America have harbored hopes that one of their own would soon take charge of the largest flock in Christendom.

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