Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Ailing Pope

These requests that people pray for the pope's health and this decision to move up the creation of 31 new cardinals cause me to believe someone other than Pope John Paul II will be leading the Roman Catholic Church come next year. I noticed a few weeks ago that in his appearances, he was even more frail than usual, and I've gotten used to the slow decline of his health. For me, this has two implications:

1.) Pope John Paul II should win the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. There are no clear favorites who would come before a sort of "lifetime general achievement" award, and there won't be another chance. I certainly don't agree with JP II on many matters of doctrine and social morality (being a Protestant, my opinion doesn't really count anyway), but believe he will be remembered as one of the greatest popes in history. First there is his role in the fall of communism - it was no accident the anti-communist forces first gained headlines in Poland shortly after the pope's ascension and determined visits to his homeland. More important is the way he has reinvented the position of the papacy, making it into a sort of global pastorship respected by people of all religions as he travels the world with his message of peace.

2.) A new pope will be chosen. Catholic politics fascinates me because it is so unpredictable. Pope John XXIII's selection is the classic example of this, as he was chosen as a place-holding transitional figure yet once in charge called the Vatican II council that reinvented Catholicism for modernity. The BBC reports speculation the next pope could be from Latin America, and also mentions the idea that he will favor devolution of authority to local and regional churches. When I was at QU a trendy favorite was Austria's Christoph Schoenborn. I would suggest people not overlook Nigeria's Francis Arinze, who is theologically conservative but a specialist in inter-religious dialogue. After John Paul II's flurry of theological activity, the hierarchy may decide a breather would be nice, and that Arinze addresses pressing issues of the modern world.


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