A Benedict-ion

Feb 13, 2013, 13:25 IST | Hemal Ashar

Pope Benedict XVI's resignation has been met with sadness and surprise. Yet, some say the unprecedented step is a realistic one and may force the Church to look at appointing a new Pontiff keeping the heavy burden in mind

Even divine designations and resignations cannot escape this insta-age where, news is out faster than you can blink and people are already asking: what next. While news of Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation is still to sink in, the world is already speculating at what and more pertinently, ‘who’ comes next.

Pope Benedict
Picture taken on September 24, 2011 shows Pope Benedict XVI being helped down the stairs at the Cathedral of Freiburg, Germany. The 85-year-old Pope decided to resign with effect from February 28 because his age prevented him from carrying out his duties. Pic/AFP

When Mumbai’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias was asked in a Christmas 2012 interview if he ever thought that an Indian would one day become Pope, gracious Gracias had suppressed a sigh at what was obviously a familiar question. He had said then, “This is a question I am frequently asked but I do not think that the nationality of the Pope is paramount.

We just need a good person, a spiritual, holy man who is also an intellectual person, has a theological background and can give direction to the Church. Let’s not forget that the Pope is a leader of a state, he also has the weight of moral authority and has to deal with the world. I think also that administrative and bureaucratic responsibilities are bogging down spiritual leaders. We need to start adopting the older model, where the goal should be concentrating on spiritual good and giving spiritual guidance to people.”

Gracias now says in reaction to the resignation, that it is a “courageous” decision. “It reflects his love for the Church and his courage. Sensing that his health was failing he did not want the Church to be in any way disadvantaged because of his person and he had the courage to do what has not taken place in the last 600 years.”

New Popes
Vatican City, VATICAN CITY STATE: This combination made with file pictures shows the Cardinals likely to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. Top row from left: Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodrigues Maradiaga, Argentine Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Brazilian Joao Braz de Aviz, Philippines’ Luis Antonio Tagle, and Nigerian Peter Turkson. Bottom row from left : Austrian Cristoph Schonborn, Hungarian Peter Erdoe, Italian Angelo Scola, Canadian Marc Ouellet, Nigerian Francis Arinze, Nigerian John Onaiyekan, and USA’s Timothy Dolan. Pic/AFP

Fr. Anthony Cherangat, spokesman for the Catholic Church and Editor of the Examiner says, “He was one of the most intelligent persons and when he saw that his health did not allow him to continue, he had the humility and courage to give up this much cherished post. He did what we call, ‘emptying himself’ which is also called Aenosis in Greek. It is an act of service.”

When asked specifically if this office should be left to a younger person, Cherangat said, “One can be an old person with a young heart. When Pope Benedict XVI was appointed, one heard plenty of murmurs that he was not as charismatic as Pope John Paul II, but he managed to get in crowds at youth meetings. This is because he was an intellectual, unafraid, articulate and he did speak on issues affecting the world.”

Fr. Cherangat felt it was time for places like Asia and Africa now, “to return the compliment. It is time, for a Pope from India or any place in Asia or Africa. We had Cardinal Ivan Dias in the succession speculation earlier, who has retired and is giving spiritual guidance in Rome; the Church has come of age, here. Above all I think spirituality is the supreme quality one has to look for.”

Fr. Joe D’Souza of St Ignatius Church claims the resignation came a as “shock.” Fr D’Souza added that it may be time for the Church to consider appointing younger men to shoulder this burden. Asked specifically about the possibility of an Indian pope, D’Souza stated, “We had Cardinal Ivan Dias spoken about the last time, but not this time, I think. I think the next Pope maybe from Ghana (Africa).”

Padmasri Fr. Joe Pereira, who is a well-known social worker and Iyengar yoga teacher, calls himself a, “progressive. The position of Pope is a very challenging one; there is a component of pressure from all quarters. Let us examine the Pope’s statement itself about his fragility of health. I think it is so realistic. I know some priests would have appreciated if Pope John Paul II would have stepped down five years before he died.

I think the resignation itself is a brilliant idea. It infuses fresh thinking in the Church, which is surely one of the wonders of the world.” Fr. Pereira while not specifically stating his choice of an Indian Pope said that time may have come to move out of, “Vatican, Vatican, Europe, Europe. The Pope could be a non-European maybe from Latin America or Asia,” signed off this head of Kripa Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation working with people afflicted with chemical dependency and HIV.

For Fr. Warner D’Souza, parish priest of St Jude Church in Malad and head of the Catholic Church Committee on Heritage, this move is “bold and humble. It should be a lesson for politicians in India. His step sends the message of humility that we should admit to ourselves when we can’t continue. He was reluctant to become Pope. His plan was to retire and return to his life of academics.

Lots of people, including me, were sceptical when he was elected Pope but he won all of them over. He has done a fantastic job. His predecessor was a charismatic person, while Pope Benedict XVI was a great teacher. I was in Madrid where he addressed a crowd of 1.5 million people. The crowd was cheering but when he began to speak, there was absolute silence.

“It has been a short but interesting pontificate. Yes, there were controversies, but they are there across the world in every religion. The Catholic Church bears the brunt because it is the last bastion of its kind. Of course, there is no excuse for paedophilia, and the Pope apologised for it repeatedly in country after country. His step would open doors to many more changes that might take place in the Vatican.

“If we have an Indian Pope, it will be wonderful. There is always a possibility as the Church is alive in the East — Asia, Africa and Latin America. It’s not a question of race; it is about the right man for the job. When the Cardinals go in to vote, I am sure country will not remotely be an issue with them. They are looking at an international scenario. This is uncharted territory and it will be fascinating to see what happens.”

Some years ago...
Pope John Paul II’s deteriorating condition had sparked speculation about a successor. One name appearing prominently was that of His Excellency the Archbishop Cardinal Ivan Dais of Mumbai. An international magazine had named Dais as one of the possible successors. However, at that time, the Catholic Communications office with Father Pravin Fernandes as official spokesperson dismissed the reports as being “pure

Certain reports had then stated that there was a demand for a globe trotting, multi-lingual Pope. According to a news report, Cardinal Dias knews 16 languages. However, Father P Fernandes had said at that time, “Well, Cardinal Dias is certainly multi-lingual but I do not know where or how this 16-language theory has sprung up. I am not certain if he knows 16 languages.” Cardinal Dias had junior postings in Ghana and Benin and had also served in Scandinavia, Indonesia and Madagascar, besides China and the erstwhile Soviet Union. Maybe that is from where stemmed the 16-language theory.

Inputs from Asha Mahadevan

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