Whoever Next Pope Is, Hopefully He'll Know Secret To John Paul's 'Charisma'
By Michael H. Brown
If reports are accurate, cardinals at last check were moving in a new direction when it comes to the next pope, away from one based on the locations of candidates -- their homelands -- and more toward style and ability to project universal charisma.
"Before the Pope's death, many cardinals and commentators said a decisive factor could be geography -- whether the next pope should come from Europe, where the church is shrinking, or from Latin America, Africa, or parts of Asia, where the church is experiencing rapid growth," reports The New York Times.
"But since the Pope's death, the cardinals have said they are looking for someone who can project universal appeal with a personal humility and pastoral presence that embodies the message of the Gospel, as they say John Paul did."
This new view reportedly came after cardinals witnessed the extraordinary eruption of affection for John Paul II -- which, with several million mourners flooding Rome, caught even the Vatican itself off guard. At least some cardinals, it appears, have realized that the key to his success was not in the words he used or the encyclicals but in his rapport with the Holy Spirit.
A move away from geography as the key factor could bode poorly for an Asian or African candidate such as Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, who is certainly spiritually strong (and staunchly conservative) but may not be what the voting cardinals perceive as universal in appeal -- stronger in style than many may prefer, although popular and leading the pack in one poll conducted by Newsweek among the general public in the U.S. (a poll the cardinals will almost surely never see).
If the cardinals decide to fall back to more traditional molds, two who may pull more to the fore are Italian cardinals Dionigi Tettamanzi and Giovanni Battista Re. Such names, however, can be tossed about forever, and no one really knows where the cardinals are heading. Latin America may yet be tapped as a middle ground, offering candidates that would have both universal appeal and represent a part of the world that the Vatican seeks to firm up.
Twenty-one of the cardinals come from Latin America, one of the world's fastest-growing Catholic zones -- giving it one more than Italy, the traditional power.
The United States and Canada have 14; Africa and Asia each has 11; Europe, where in some countries the Church is hemorrhaging the faithful, has 58.
More important than name-dropping is identifying the most basic needs in the next pontiff, and that seems to be both a hands-on administrative approach that could clear the debris of the sex-abuse scandal and at the same time a man with an obviously lively prayer life that transcends politics and worldliness.
A cardinal who espouses dry doctrine with no overt sign of spiritual gifts would be dangerous for a Church that has seen pews empty in large portions of its terrain, including the U.S., Australia, and Europe, precisely because of such "aridity."
The Church needs a spiritual and not a political pope, most exemplified in men like Pius X, Pius XII, and John Paul II, who all brought powerful devotions to the fore and stood against evil as a supernatural and not just a psychological force.
Interesting in coming days will be to watch for anti-Catholicism, now that the height of mourning is seen to be over. "The storm is about to hit," predicts Catholic League president William Donohue, citing instances of sharp criticism already. "What they have been waiting for is about to happen: the week between the end of the mourning and the beginning of the conclave is upon us. And that means the Left is ready to explode."
We'll stay away from politics here, although it certainly is a time during which the evil one is showing his face. But it is also a time of miracles, and many will watch closely to see if wonders are claimed at the intercession of John Paul II. His secretary has revealed a miracle associated with his giving Communion to a man with cancer some years back, and such cures could well increase now that he is deceased and in a better place from which to operate as an intercessor.
While we're on the mystical front: will the next pope bear out the alleged prophecy attributed to St. Malachy -- that he will somehow be associated with "olives" (De Gloria Olivae, "from the glory of the olive")?
Does that point back to Italy?
We don't know about any of that, just that the best thing a new pope can be is a true and tried and devout Catholic, preferably one with a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother.
Let's have that again.
One day, observers will realize that it was devotion to Jesus through Mary -- with her help, with her constant aid -- that was behind John Paul II's own mysterious "charisma."
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