Wednesday February 13, 2013
Pope’s shoes a huge pair to fill
THE STAR SAYS
IT was breaking news of global proportions. When Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Monday, citing age and declining health as reasons, he made a decision that though legally permissible, has never been done since Gregory XII left office under different circumstances almost six centuries ago.
The news is of special significance not only to members of the Roman Catholic Church, who number about 1.196 billion at the end of 2010 according to the Census of the 2012 Annuario Pontificio (Pontifical Yearbook), but the world at large.
From Vatican City, the city-state with the highest Catholic percentage of the population at 100%, the largest numbers of Catholics in the world today are in Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, the United States and Italy.
Malaysia, too, has a strong Catholic flock, who number more than a million, accounting for some 40% of the Christian population in the country.
All the news channels went live to update the world about the ramifications of the Pope's decision, taking a sombre approach in analysing the milestones in his term of office and what lies ahead.
The Vatican is no more the secluded enclave of ages past but in the world of today has come under intense scrutiny for actions, both from the past and present.
The Catholic Church he heads continues to have to deal with the global fallout of the many sex abuse issues that had come to light.
As part of his legacy, he will be remembered as the first pope to personally meet victims and offer public apologies for the Vatican's decades of inaction against priests who abused those under their care.
In the days ahead, there will be many commentaries about the papal reign of Pope Benedict, viewed against the circumstances and developments of the day but it will be up to history to paint a more accurate account of his leadership in these past eight years.
The demands of the world are so different today, and requires, as Pope Benedict puts it, “both strengths of mind and body strengths which in the last few months have deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me”.
The Pope of this generation has to travel far and wide, like any world leader, and while his primary audience is his Catholic flock, every action and word are closely monitored due to their implications to the world at large.
It is not wrong to say that the Pope has to be even more diplomatic than world political leaders in charting the course of his office. It is indeed a heavy cross to bear.
It requires not only spiritual strength but also physical stamina that is being put to the test, day by day.
The attention of the world is now turned toward his successor. The election of a Pope is imbued with traditions that make the outcome truly unpredictable.
Other Christian denominations have their own ways of electing the leaders, and there are some where the term of office is demarcated by the provisions of that denomination.
But for the Catholic Church, it is unlikely that Pope Benedict's decision will herald a “term of office” scenario in the future.
But this precedent will definitely influence how the College of Cardinals, entrusted with finding the new Pope, may be inclined to vote.
The issues confronting the Catholic Church, from the baggage of history to the challenges of the future, are many.
Heavy are the responsibilities for the man chosen to take up the cross after Benedict.
But ultimately, to the Catholic faithful throughout the world, it is God who will anoint the one the Cardinals choose.