Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Future of the Papacy

The world is still in a state of mourning over the sad but dignified loss of the Pope, John Paul II. It may be premature, even a tad disrespectful, to begin agonising over where this leaves the Catholic Church and, ultimately, who its next leader will turn out to be. But these questions are surely in the minds of the cardinals who descended on Rome today to pay their respects to a great leader of people.

We’ve all heard the life story of Pope John Paul II over this last weekend that it seems unnecessary to repeat it, but it is certainly not unnecessary to remember just how great his contribution was in bringing down the spectre of communism that had been haunting Eastern Europe for so long.

The cardinals who met to elect Bishop Wojtyla to the papacy in 1978 must have known that they had made a radical and intensely political decision. Of course they would have borne in mind his position on the most controversial of religious issues of the day, but I am sure they knew that by electing a man from the vastest Catholic member of the Eastern bloc, they were declaring a signal of intent. That signal sent ripples all the way to Moscow and reached its ultimate climax with the dismantling of the Iron Curtain and the liberation of the Eastern European peoples in the late eighties and the early nineties. The significance of the papacy of John Paul II was enormous in bringing down communism.

And the cardinals who congregate in the locked chambers of the Vatican later this month may be preparing for another worthy contribution to global politics. If they are simply seeking a kind of stop-gap pope, after the epic tenure of John Paul II, then clearly there will be no room for grand gestures. But if they seriously believe in bringing to an end the problems of today’s world, then they are capable of making a fine decision.

In an article in today’s Times, William Rees-Mogg summed up the predicament of the world, neatly and succinctly, as the material poverty of the Third World and the spiritual poverty of the First. The importance and significance of global poverty is reaching epic proportions. Never does a week pass us by without any story of oppression and persecution in the remotest corners of our globe, or even another huge natural disaster in a forgotten pocket of Asia or Africa. The ultimate response of the western world is to offer what little help they can, which is worthy but, inevitably, rather futile.

I feel like we are in the same kind of quandary we were in 1978, when the world was bringing itself to an apocalyptic end, only this time the problem is not two superpowers staring one another down, but the reign of poverty in the Third World. It looks as though there is no way out. It seems as if the only thing we can do is grin and bear it. Eleven years later, who could have imagined that a monstrous yet so symbolic wall in East Germany would be torn down by people rejoicing that the end of their pointless terror had come? Perhaps eleven years from today, we may be saying the same about the poverty of the Third World.

Such a statement sounds fanciful, but it will be much, much more than that if some gigantic leaps are made in working towards great things in the poorest regions of our planet. The greatest step those cardinals in Rome can take this month is to play copycat, and hand the papacy to a man whose life’s work has been devoted to supporting the Third World and bringing an end to the injustices of our global society.

Therefore, with complete disregard to all the sage advice offered by those who have seen events like these often before in their lifetimes that anyone who walks into the conclave as a pope walks out a cardinal, I would eagerly supporting the election of a pope from the Third World. Of the names being offered around, I would support the election of Cardinal Francis Arinze, a black Nigerian – what a signal of intent that would be! – or even Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who is a part of the powerful South American bloc.

Cardinals Arinze and Hummes may come to be judged as the wrong choices for the papacy. Closer scrutiny of their background may render them unacceptable. But at first face, the appointment of either of these two men would serve as yet another significant milestone in the modern history of Catholicism and Christianity, not to mention the progress of the planet Earth.

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