A Pontiff for the 21st Century*
By Rudy Arizala
Due to the demise of Pope John Paul II on 2 April 2005, a week from today, the April Conclave of 117 Cardinals will convene at Vatican´s Sistine Chapel (18 April). They would select or elect by secret ballot from among themselves who would be the next Pope.
In the minds of millions of Catholics and observers throughout the world are: 1) Who will be the next pontiff?; 2) What should be his qualifications?; and 3) Whether he would be a papa di passaggio (stopgap pope) in this modern age of aggiornamento (adaptation of the church´s mission to the needs of today´s world), or his reign shall be for a much longer period like that of his predecessor.
It has been said "the papacy depends on the personality of its head. He cannot afford to be colorless or indecisive; he has to lead all the time and to be seen leading."
To attempt find a clue to the answers to the the questions mentioned above, it is relevant to review or recall briefly the selection and reigns of the preceding pope personalities in modern times from 1958 to 2005. In other words, from the Italian Cardinal Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXIII) to Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II).
II. Immediate Predecessors
Let us now examine briefly the reign of the following pontiffs.
A. Pope John XXIII (1958 &endash; 1963)
Cardinal Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXIII) was the son of poor peasants at Sotto il Monte, near Bergano. He was Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria for 5 years as the start of his diplomatic career which lasted for 28 years. He was later on posted in Greece and Turkey. Then in 1944, he became Papal Nuncio in Paris for 9 years until be became a Cardinal (Patriarch) in Venice in 1953.
When Pope Pius XII died, Cardinal Roncalli was elected Pope after 3 days of balloting. It was claimed he became a Pope because "of his positive qualities, his exemplary piety, his loyalty to a pontiff whose philosophy he was known not fully to have shared, his talent for conciliation and his immense experience in diplomacy." He had also simplicity of character, the product of his peasant origin.
Soon after his election to the papacy, he summoned a General Council to "enhance the spiritual welfare of Christians." He inaugurated said Vatican General Council at St. Peter´s on 11 October 1962. Before the opening of the Council, he issued his "Mater et Magistra" in 1961 to replace rather than confirm the social and economic teachings of his predecessors: Leo XIII´s "Rerum Novarum" and Pius XI´s "Quadragesima Anno".
In April 1963, only two months before his death, he issued his "Pacem in Terris", the encyclical designed to complement his social doctrine in "Mater et Magistra". On 3 June 1963, he died of cancer.
B. Pope Paul VI (1963 - 1978)
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (Pope Paul VI) was another Italian Northerner who was born near Brecia in 1898. He belonged to a well-educated and established Catholic family with strong political connections. After becoming a priest, he spent virtually all his life at the Secretariat of State up to 1954. Later, he was promoted to the post of alternate to the Under-Secretary of State Tardini. Then he became archbishop of Milan remaining in that post for 9 years. Pope John XXIII made him Cardinal. Montini assured Pope John XXIII that the Council will make Rome the spiritual capital of the world whence the light will spread over those places and institutions where men are working for the poor, for progress, justice and liberty. Cardinal Montini was elected pontiff on 21 June 1963 as Pope Paul VI.
Pope Paul VI broaden curial appointments by bringing more clerics into the Vatican Council from outside Italy. He also undertook overseas travel and showed fondness for dramatic gestures &endash; he met and embraced the Patriarch Arthenogoras . At Ephesus, he prayed at the legendary house of the Virgin Mary. He was the first pope to address the United Nations. He visited Africa, South America, India and the Philippines. In the Philippines, he was stabbed by a mad Bolivian national dressed in priestly habit. Luckily, Pope Paul VI was not hurt.
He was also a tireless host. He granted audiences no fewer than 90 state visitors, presidents, dictators, democrats, communists, black and white, Christians and Jewish, Moslems and heathens. He urged heads of congregations to retire from the Curia at 75 years of age and more non-Italians were brought into curial posts. For the conduct of future Conclaves, he disqualified Octogenarian Cardinals from taking part in the ballot.
He also gave support to liturgical reforms &endash; introduction of the vernacular on the wider scale to make liturgy intelligible to the mass of overseas Catholics who do not speak Latin. Because of his policy, the Second Vatican Council ended in an atmosphere of harmony and confidence. He avoided irritating the progressives or offending the conservatives.
Pope Paul VI issued his first encyclical "Ecclesiam Suam" &endash; which echoed John XXIII´s view that while Communism itself was hateful, the church did not despair of entering into a more positive dialogue with individual Communist regimes. He insisted that the obligation of the rich nations is to provide for the economic and social welfare of the Third World, as contained in the encyclical "Populorom Pregressio" (1967). He tackled the questions of clerical celibacy and birth- control in two encyclicals &endash; "Sacerdotalis Coelibatus" (1967) and "Humanis Vitae" (1968) both of which precluded any relaxation of the rules prohibiting the marriage of priests and the use of contraceptives by married persons.
Pope Paul VI died quietly at Castelgandolfo on 6 August 1978.
C. Pope John Paul I (1978)
Cardinal Albino Luciano, (Pope John Paul I), the Patriarch of Venice was considered a papa di passaggio , a stopgap pope. He was a sympathetic but hardly imposing personality. His simple manner endeared him to his followers. His only public statement was a promise of faithful adherence to the principles of John XXIII and Paul VI. While Pope Paul VI had disbanded his Noble Guard, Pope John Paul I rejected other appurtenances of papal sovereignty such as the Tiara and the "sedia gestatoria" (portable throne). John Paul I was brought up and prepared for his career in the "Venetian hinterland" and possessed little knowledge of the outside world. He reigned as Pope for only 33 days.
D. Pope John Paul II ( 1978 &endash; 2005)
Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) was the non- Italian pontiff in 455 years. Volumes of information about him have already been written since his election to the papacy in 1978. Suffice to mention it here that he was born in May 1920. His father was a minor clerical officer attached to the newly-created Polish army.
Shortly after his election as pontiff, the Polish pope lost no time in asserting himself. He traveled to 129 countries. Through the use of modern communications he drove home the point that the Head of the Church is not a remote and unknowable monarch but an immediately present and familiar figure and friend. He was visible and audible anytime.
He issued his first encyclical "Redemptor Hominis"-- nobody may treat theology as if it consisted simply of explaining his personal ideas. He was noted for his humility, accessibility and understanding of human nature but at the same time rigid in attitude on clerical marriage, admission of women to priesthood, celibacy, divorce, contraceptives, abortion and homosexuality. Subsequently, he issued another encyclical "Laborem Exercens" on the value and dignity of human labor. He condemned both Capitalism and Communism for exploiting the poor working class.
He was a good communicator attracting both the old and young generations. A true preacher and shepherd of his flock.
On the whole, the world likes a Pope who while pursuing his own way, tries to avoid clashing with either reactionaries or progressives and who does not encourage those who hold the survival of the Church and Papacy must depend on their identification with advanced socio-political thinking, or flexible attitude towards moral questions and the replacement of traditional theology by something much less explicit.
With this in mind, the new pontiff, Italian or non-Italian, shall not only be capable of continuing the implementation of the ideas or thinking of his predecessors (Pope John XXIII et al) but also in adapting to the needs of modern times without abandoning traditional precepts or teachings.
In resume, Pope John Paul II´s reign was characterized by the following:
1. Put an end to post Vatican II turmoil.
2. The first pope to pray in a synagogue; to visit a mosque; to preach in a Protestant church.
3. His most important legacy is "Catechisms of the Catholic Church," the first universal summary of the Catholic faith in over 400 years.
4. Brought democracy to his native country of Poland and put an end to dictatorships in some other countries.
5. Fulfilled three great dreams: a) Reunited Europe: b) Led the church into the third millennium; c) Trip to the Holy Land visiting both Israel and Palestine.
6. Traveled to some 129 countries, and rode on a "pope mobile" whenever he travels on land or within city limits.
7. Used modern communications to propagate Catholic faith and reach out to all kinds of people.
8. Expressed humility by apologizing for church errors and denounced anti-Semitism.
9. To protect the poor he criticized both capitalism and communism.
10. He resisted all attempts to liberalize the church teachings on birth control, abortion, homosexuality, priestly marriage, divorce, and the ordination of women.
11. His travels sought not only to minister to the faithful but also to make the church more disciplined, hierarchical and orthodox.
The next pontiff ideally should not be a "papa di passaggio" or transition pope only. He should be lasting or enduring and firm as a rock. He should be a leader; a good communicator; able to relate himself with all kinds of people and explain the gospel to all types of audience. He must be capable of a more perceptive approach to the modern world and source of moral inspiration as well as an impartial and stabilizing factor in the affairs of nations. In other words, he should be a preacher and shepherd.
Any of the following or outside the listed names below could be the next pontiff depending on the Holy Spirit when the Conclave of 117 Cardinals meet on 18 April 2005, at the Sistine Chapel:
1. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi (71 yrs old) Archbishop of Milan. (Italian national)
2. Cardinal Claudio Hummes (70 yrs old) Archbishop of Sao Paolo, (Brazilian national)
3. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (78 yrs old) Dean of the Cardinals (German national)
4. Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (60 yrs old) Archbishop of Vienna (Austrian )
5. Cardinal Francis Arinze (72 yrs old) Nigerian national
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
*Note: Some of the information in this essay were taken from "A History of the Popes" by Nicolas Cheetham (Dorset Press, New York 1992) and newspaper reports.