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HIGH DRAMA AS CHURCH APPROACHES CRITICAL CROSSROADS AND A PAPAL ELECTION THAT IS UNPREDICTABLE
There was John Paul II. He was a powerfully charismatic, spiritual, and historic pontiff. There was Benedict XVI, a potently intellectual, introspective Pope (and now Pope Emeritus, although having two men with the title "Pope" may end up reconsidered, substituting instead "Bishop Emeritus of Rome," so as not to confuse matters).
Now we wait to see who the good cardinals will choose for the next Pontiff, hoping for one (however we categorize him) who will possess great magnetism.
Whoever it is, he will be worthy of complete obedience.
Dynamic. Fresh. Different. Without such a pontiff, the Church will go on (it has for nearly twenty-one centuries); but if we revert back to an habitual administrative style, we will miss a golden opportunity. Come Holy Spirit!
Not in decades has the Church had such a chance to change perceptions, to turn a corner, to recover past glory as it does now, with the world (stunned by Benedict's quick exit) paying incredibly close attention.
However one might categorize him, the Church is in need of a man of both potent magnetism -- able to intrigue mankind, especially the young -- as well as the ability to take the Vatican bureaucracy by the horns and shape and simplify a Church so that it comes alive in the Holy Spirit.
It is a drama that must end in a striking fashion.
Nothing can seem like the same-old same-old. Here we pray!
Mary can intercede.
With prayers, change and recovery will occur.
Does the Holy Spirit direct the cardinals?
We have to believe the answer is yes: That He moves as He will. We can't predict. Will the choice be a surprise? Perhaps.
Entrenched European cardinals may have succeeded in a candidate more in line with the existing bureaucracy had the conclave started quickly, but the fact that it has extended up to now -- past last week -- with most of the discernment and information-gathering at the General Congregations and the conclave really more or less the voting booth and as it turns out not rushed (perhaps thanks to the Americans) leaves open the possibility of a new kind of Pontiff, perhaps one from Latin America, the Philippines, or Africa. That would certainly galvanize Catholicism. That would certainly draw the world fascination.
But who knows? While it seems counter-intuitive, the Roman cardinals may favor a cardinal from Brazil who would be friendlier to the Curia than an Italian candidate who is liked by the American contingent!
The first possible smoke sighting would be between 5:30 p.m. and seven p.m. Tuesday Rome time (there is no morning vote the first day). Smoke is always sent up after the two morning votes -- noon Rome time (seven a.m. EST) -- and in the evening after the afternoon votes. If a Pope is elected in the first round of voting in the morning or the afternoon, says the Vatican, smoke will appear at about 10:30 a.m. to noon or 5:30 to seven p.m. Rome time (which is five hours ahead of New York). Bells will also be rung to announce the election of a new Pontiff. About forty-five minutes after the smoke and bells, the Pope will appear at the window of the papal apartment.
Wide open. Unpredictable. Drama.
“I ask you for your prayer to help the Holy Spirit to be present among us to open our hearts and our minds to what is the will of God for his people throughout the world," Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said Sunday. "This is a momentous occasion, when perhaps the will of God isn't entirely clear to many of us."
With forty-one percent of the world's Catholics in Latin America -- where Pentecostals and "non-denominational" denominations are tirelessly attempting to take Catholics away (through precisely that kind of magnetism) -- a Pope from that region could have the most dramatic effect of any conclave decision since Wojtyla was elected in 1978.
Just twenty-five percent of Catholics are in Europe, though European cardinals make up just over fifty percent of the 115 electors.
It will take two-thirds (seventy-seven) to pick the Pope; will there be a "bandwagon effect"? Will it be a matter of looking at those four daily votes and falling sway to the momentum?
Did the Americans delay things to halt a rush to judgment? Or have both Europeans and U.S. delegations split and aligned in a way we can't conceive? Are national factions split?
Probably the latter. It is unpredictable. There is no front-runner, as there were no real front-runners when the election of Wojtyla startled the world (and bore such phenomenal fruit).
Again, does the Holy Spirit make the decision?
Benedict XVI said, "I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote."
That's a theological view. Let us pray that the Spirit takes full charge! He comes in proportion to our prayer.
There are 1.2 billion "Catholics."
Let's draw them back!
It is Lent. Christ is in the desert. We too can fast -- this week, for the conclave.
It was the great Venezuelan mystic and intensely obedient mystic Maria Esperanza who said, "The Church is perfect. Men are not perfect."
"I do believe that very often there's a tendency to
exaggerate the gravity and even the moment (importance) of the problems we
have in our house today," Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja,
Nigeria, told Catholic
News Service. "Anyone who has read church history knows that
there is nothing new on that."
Indeed, history is full of papal intrigues -- and turmoil; at certain points, the Vatican has been run by emperors and other secular forces; compared with much of history, we are in a stable -- if challenging -- period. The great disturbance is that of homosexuality. Problems or accusations of scandal or corruption should be addressed, said Cardinal Onaiyekan, "but that only proves that the Church is made of human beings. Jesus Christ could have left this church in the hands of angels; there were enough in heaven to do the job," he said.
And so we know that none of us is flawless (that this was an attribute only possessed by Christ).
But our good and holy leaders try and that's what we need most: holiness -- in whatever style. To them, we must be obedient.
Petrus Romanus? Curia? Vatican bank? Vati-leaks?
The rest will take care of itself.
[resources: Lenten books; Medjugorje pilgrimage, Michael Brown: purification, future, self-illumination]
[Artwork by Tommy Canning]
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