Where is the pope buried and why there?

Many of Pope John Paul's fellow Poles would like for him to buried in his native Poland, but he died as the Bishop of Rome. It is traditional for popes to be buried in the crypt underneath the Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome, where the body of St. Peter, the first pope, is traditionally believed to have been buried.

How long have there been popes?

The pope is the bishop, or leader of the Catholic Christian community, of the city of Rome, in Italy. Catholics believe that the first bishop of Rome was Peter, Jesus' disciple, who came from the Holy Land to Rome after Jesus' death to preach the Gospel there and who was killed by the Roman authorities for his belief in Jesus. So there have been bishops of Rome since the time of Peter, the very beginning of the Christian church. They did not use the name "pope," however, until about 597 A.D. The name "pope" comes from "papa," the same pet name, like "daddy," that we use today to address our fathers. That's because the bishop was regarded as the loving father of all his people.

How many popes have there been?

Pope John Paul II was the 264th pope, counting from St. Peter.

What is a cardinal?

Cardinals are very high church officials who are named by the pope as a high honor. They are usually bishops of important cities, although they don't have to be bishops. There are now 163 cardinals, and when they meet, it is in a body called the College of Cardinals. In contrast to bishops and priests, who wear black robes, cardinals wear robes of bright red, including a broad-brimmed red hat. That's why the bright red bird is called the cardinal. The red symbolizes their willingness to become martyrs for Christ. One of the most important functions of the College of Cardinals is to choose the next pope when a pope dies, and that is why the cardinals will soon be meeting in Rome. Only cardinals under the age of 80 (there are 120 of those) may vote to elect the pope.

Why does everyone say the next pope can't be from the United States?

There are three possible reasons. First, Catholics form only a minority of the inhabitants of the United States, and popes are typically chosen from strongly Catholic countries. Second, the United States is such a strong political power in the world. Many cardinals would be reluctant to have both political and church power coming from one country. Third, none of the U.S. bishops seems as distinguished spiritually and intellectually as some of the European, Latin American, and African bishops who are being talked about as the likely next pope.

What is written on the pope's headdress?

The pope's miter--the technical name for his headdress, which is worn by all bishops, bears the Latin inscription "Vicarius Filii Dei"--"Vicar of the Son of God." Catholics believe that the pope is Christ's vicar, his living representative on earth.

I am a new Catholic, and I would like to know if there is a special Mass for all Catholics in their home parishes on the day of the pope's funeral, and if so whether attendance is required?

Many Catholic parishes are holding special Masses for the pope, and you should check with your own parish for specifics. Catholics are not required to attend these Masses, although many choose to do so.

Has there ever been an African pope, and is an African likely to be chosen as John Paul II's successor?

Three popes have been described as African in church records: Victor (189-198); Miltiades (311-314), and Gelasius I (492-496). During antiquity, when these three ruled, "Africa" meant northern Africa, for few in the ancient Mediterranean world knew anything about central or southern Africa. Northern Africa--the area encompassing today's Mauretania, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia--was a vibrant center of Latin-speaking Christianity during ancient times and produced famous bishops and theologians such as Cyprian, Tertullian, and Augustine, as well as martyrs such as Felicitas and Perpetua.

We don't know anything about the race of any of these people, however, because ancient people were not race-conscious in anything like today's terms. Northern Africans most likely had dark skins, and they were probably a mixture of many ethnicities, from Central African to Berber to Phoenician to Roman, for many Romans had settled there. Culturally speaking, they were sophisticated folk steeped in classical culture who strongly identified with Rome.

Northern Africa long ago became overwhelmingly Islamic, and central and southern Africa are now the most vibrant centers of African Christianity. The leading African contender for the papacy in the wake of John Paul II's death is Cardinal Francis Arinze, former Catholic bishop of Onitsha in southern Nigeria. A member of the Vatican Curia for the past 20 years, Arinze is in this sense a throwback to the African popes of antiquity in that he is a sophisticated Roman insider as well as an African. It is diffcult to assess Arinze's chances of actually becoming pope, however, since the scuttlebutt is that if we are to have a Third-World Pope, he is likely to come from Latin America, where the Catholic Church is longer-established, rather than Africa.

Last Sunday was Divine Mercy Sunday. I understand that it was given that name by Pope John Paul II, can you tell me the significant of this celebration?

Divine Mercy Sunday came into existence through a Polish nun, Sister Maria Faustina Kowalski, who is believed to have received numerous apparitions of Jesus during the 1930s. In 1937, Jesus appeared to her and told her to mark a novena--nine special days of prayer--beginning on Good Friday of that year. The ninth day of the novena was to be Easter Saturday, so the following Sunday, the Sunday after Easter was to be called the Feast of Divine Mercy.

Celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday was largely limited to Poland until 2000, when Pope John Paul II canonized Sister Faustina and made it a feast of the universal church. He also established a plenary indulgence--the remission of all punishment in Purgatory for sin--for Catholics who go to confession within 20 days before or after Divine Mercy Sunday.

Who shot the pope? When and why?

Pope John Paul II was shot four times on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter's Square in Rome as he blessed an assembled crowd from his Popemobile. His assailant was 23-year-old Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish national who had escaped from prison in Turkey, where he was incarcerated for the murder in 1979 of a Turkish newspaper editor.

Vatican officials long suspected that the attempt on the pope's life was commissioned by Soviet officials, who feared the Polish-born pope would serve as a catalyst for rebellion in Eastern-bloc countries against the Soviet yoke. This suspicion seemed to have been confirmed when the archives of the Soviet KGB and Stasi, the East German secret police, were opened during the 1990s. It seemed that the KGB had ordered John Paul II's assassination, and the order was carried out by the Bulgarian secret police, who recruited Agca. Italian investigators and the post-communist Bulgarian government have confirmed ties between Agca and Bulgarian spy agencies, but there has been no conclusive proof of Soviet involvement.

Acga served nearly 20 years in an Italian prison for the assassination attempt--and was forgiven by John Paul II, who met with him personally in 1983. He was deported to Turkey in 2000, where he is serving a 17-year sentence in Istanbul for the slaying of a leading Turkish journalist, Abdi Ipekci.

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