Italy: Our Cardinals Have the Edge
Middle East: Will Muslims be Forgotten?
Mexico: Is it the South's Turn?
Africa: Choose an International Crusader
Brazil: A Pope from Latin America's Catholic Powerhouse?
By Kenneth Rapoza
Catholicism is to Brazil what Protestantism is to the United States. Each boasts the largest number of followers in its respective country. Catholics from Portugal colonized Brazil in the 1500s and ultimately turned it into the world's Catholic stronghold, with an estimated 151.2 million Catholics, according to a BBC Brasil report using new Vatican data soon to be released.
Only Italy has a larger percentage of Catholics.
Although there is no official state religion in Brazil, Catholicism and its symbols are central to political and social life. It is commonplace to see images of political leaders going about their daily business with a large crucifix hanging on the wall of their government office--an image that would prompt lawsuits in the United States.
Regionally, Latin America has more Catholics than anywhere in the world. And so for this reason, those speculating on who the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church will be point to four Latin American cardinals, including Brazil's Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as the top contenders before the conclave. The 22-strong group of Latin American cardinals in the conclave--out of a total of 117 voting cardinals--is the biggest regional bloc outside Europe. Hummes is the archbishop of Sao Paulo, the Catholic Church's largest diocese.
On April 3, the Financial Times' Brazil-based editor, Richard Lapper, wrote that a "Latin American moment" is a possibility, thanks to two main advantages. First, church doctrine has deep roots. Abortion is illegal as is gay marriage in all countries except for Argentina. Second, Latin America offers lessons for the Vatican that could be especially important as the church faces up to the advance of Islam and the spread of Protestant evangelicalism in the region. There are more than 50 million evangelical churchgoers south of Texas, compared to just two million adherents back in 1960, Lapper reported. Most of them are in Brazil.
Upon Cardinal Hummes's arrival in Rome after Pope John Paul II's death, reporters asked the 70-year-old Franciscan to express his thoughts on the possibility of being elected pope. He said he wanted to be attentive to Pope John Paul II's funeral Mass and not speculate on the future papacy. "South American, African or other, that's not the principal criterion. We are all here before God. Anyone of us can be the next pontiff," ANSA newswire reported Hummes as saying.
Hummes first met Pope John Paul II in 1978, where they spoke informally and reminisced about their days working as laborers. In his first years as bishop, Hummes opposed the military government that took over Brazil during the Cold War. He allowed union leaders to make political speeches at Mass. When industrialists asked him to mediate in strike negotiations, he refused, saying the church had to take the side of the workers. On becoming archbishop of Sao Paulo in January 2005, Hummes succeeded Latin American human-rights activist Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, but he is not considered to be cut from the same activist cloth as Arns.
Hummes has said that his concern for the poor, while dictated by the Gospels, was hard to separate from politics. He has criticized Brazilian government policies, but has also spoken out against the Landless Rural Workers Movement, known by their acronym MST, a controversial grassroots organization of poor unemployed workers that invades farmlands to pressure the government to give land to the poor.
A poll by Brazilian media giant O Globo showed 37 percent of the respondents saying the next pope will come from Europe, compared to 33 percent thinking he will come from Latin America. The country's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, appears to be an unabashed Hummes supporter. According to an April 9 O Globo editorial, while in Rome for the pope's funeral, Lula told reporters: "I've already spoken with Father Claudio today. He and all of the Brazilian cardinals are probably thinking about what is going to take place in the next few days. It must be a difficult task. When it comes to these things, it's best for people just to keep quiet. Obviously I would be one of the most happiest human beings alive to see Father Claudio elected pope."
In a feature on the top papal contenders in the newsweekly Epoca, Father Alberto Libanio Christo, better known throughout Brazil as Frei Beto, a populist left-wing religious figure during the Cold War who now has ready access to the corridors of power in Brazil, recalled the pope's first visit in 1980. "He descended from an Army helicopter in Sao Paulo and met with labor leaders."
While the pope had a close relationship with Brazilian church leaders, German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and another strong contender for pope, has had a contentious relationship with the country's activist clergy. Epoca reported that Ratzinger has long been an outspoken critic of the Liberation Theology movement that swept through the region in the last decades of the 20th century. He censored Franciscan friar and liberation theologian Leonardo Boff in 1984. Ratzinger ordered Boff to spend a year in "obsequious silence," during which he was forbidden to speak publicly or publish his views. Ratzinger got Boff's 1987 book, "Trinity and Society," banned in Italy. In 1991, Boff was forced to step down as editor of the Catholic book publishers, Vozes, and in the following year was barred from speaking in public. He left the priesthood on May 26, 1992.
Yet, despite the drop in Catholic baptisms a requirement to be considered a church member the number of young men in seminary in Brazil has tripled over the same period, passing from 3,916 in 1978 to 9,845 today, according to the Vatican's Central Office of Church Statistics.
One reason for Catholicism's hold in Brazil is rise of charismatic priests like Marcelo Rossi, who has become the face of the Brazilian church, arguably even more so than the pope. Father Rossi (www.padremarcelorossi.com.br), a young, handsome priest from Sao Paulo, has a following any pop star would envy. He's released numerous gospel CDs to sung to traditional Brazilian music, and has starred in Christian movies like the 2003 film, "Maria: Mother of the Son of God", an attempt to reel Catholics back to church and away from other denominations.
Wherever Rossi goes, tens of thousands are sure to follow. He can fill a football stadium as quickly as Billy Graham can in the United States. Yet, his doctrine is no different than what the Vatican preaches--no abortion, no married priests, and no pre-marital sex.
In fact, one of Brazil's well-known editorial writers, Vinicius Torres Freire, wrote on April 4 in Folha de Sao Paulo that while the opinions of the laity and the layman are some of the most pressing problems the Catholic Church faces, church leaders will "never give in and follow the rules set up by their adversaries--inside and outside Catholicism." Freire named abortion, artificial insemination, and contraception as just some of the themes that "are not, nor should not be, immediate and central preoccupations of the church.... The Catholic Church treads among a wave of religions that try to solve immediate personal and political problems in exchange for the churchgoers receiving some form of divine lesson in the process. It is religiosity in exchange for something more diffuse, emotional, and non-doctrinal. The Catholic Church simply does not exist in that world....To give in to lay public opinion will cause the church to lose its identity and, ultimately, its reason for being."
Elio Gaspari, a columnist for O Globo now studying at Harvard, speculated on the future from Cambridge last week. "That bishop from Santo Andre," he wrote of Claudio Hummes' congregation, "who in 1980 carried a cross down the street during a labor strike that didn't turn out well for the workers could very well be elected pope if the new pontiff isn't an Italian."
Kenneth Rapoza is a freelance reporter in Brazil.
By Sophie Azzuro
John Paul II chose nearly 100 percent of the cardinals who will elect the next pope. The late pontiff is credited with diversifying the electoral body by appointing cardinals from newly formed dioceses in Africa and Latin America. Still, 20 out of the 115 men who will file into the Sistine Chapel on Apr. 18 are Italian. Many of them have held top positions within the Roman Curia and or have worked in large Italian dioceses. In the days following the death of pope John Paul II, the Italian press has named many of the Italian electors among their papabile.
Among the papabile noted by the Italian press, most of them are Italian.
"The idea of an Italian papabile is in favor. The Italians have a wide international vision and are likely to bend with regard to gradual reforms. An Italian could loosen the excessive rigidity of Wojtyla with regard to familiar relationships and sexuality," wrote La Repubblica 's seasoned Vatican journalist, Marco Politi, who co-authored "His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden history of Our Time," with the famed American journalist Carl Bernstein.
The top Italian papabile as reflected in the press is Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, 70, Archbishop of Milan, according to Italian dailies such as Corriere della Sera, La Stampa, and La Repubblica.
Tettamanzi, emerged as a favorite, when on Apr. 4 in Milan, a multi-ethnic crowd shouted, "Long live the next pope," as the stout, candid Tettamanzi emerged from the city's gothic cathedral waving to the masses. "Tettamanzi is undoubtedly a point figure. He has the right age, a solid doctrinal position, and was dear to Wojtyla. At the same time, he has a human and pastoral disposition when confronted with the issues facing contemporary Christians," wrote Politi.
Cardinal Tettamanzi is said to have assisted John Paul II in writing "Evangelium Vitae," an encyclical on human-life issues. A scholar and former professor of moral theology, he has written extensively on bio-ethics. He backed anti-globalization protesters at the tumultuous G-8 forum in Genoa in 2001 and has spoken out passionately against world poverty. He has frequently addressed youth, urging them to follow the way and life of Jesus Christ. Corriere della Sera's Giangicamo Schiavi wrote that Tettamanzi is "a man of dialogue who doesn't surrender himself to a barren society." Schiavi described Tettamanzi as a good mediator between extremely conservative and non-conservative candidates.
Other Italian front-runners include:
Also mentioned among the papabile by other Italian newspapers include:
Sophie Azzuro is a journalist in Rome.
By Peter C. Valenti
Speaking in the halls of Egypt's 1,000 year-old al-Azhar University, the premier Sunni Islamic institution in the Islamic world, Grand Imam and Head Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi reacted on April 3 to news of the death of Pope John Paul II. "The passing of the pope of the Vatican represents a great loss to the Catholic Church," Tantawi intoned, adding "and to the Islamic world, for what he provided it from values such as supporting truth and peace, and establishing bonds of love and friendship between the Islamic and Christian peoples."
Two days later, popular columnist Ahmad al-Ruba'i wrote in Saudi Arabia's Asharq al-Awsat, "The widespread reactions to his loss underscore a new truth, for Pope John Paul II was not merely pope of the Catholics, but rather an international personality who succeeded in crossing obstacles and boundaries between religions."
In response to this op-ed, readers wrote letters to the newspaper using the traditional Islamic formula for the recently deceased. One letter from Kuwait simply said: "May God have mercy on him, the foremost man of peace in the world." A letter from a Qatari said, "May God have mercy on this great man who worked with all sincerity in the interest of the oppressed peoples of Earth. We implore from God that He ensure the world with a successor to him that comes close to him in his deeds."
These are not examples of hyperbole. Long before his death, many in the Arab and Islamic worlds have expressed a deep admiration of Pope John Paul II, premised on two equally important factors. The first is the pope's religious devotion, morality, and sincere attempts at interfaith dialogue. He hosted numerous Islamic delegations at the Vatican and spoke eloquently about the two faiths' shared ideals. He was the first pope to ever visit Islamic nations or enter a mosque (the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus in 2001).
The other reason Muslims and Arabs look to him so positively has to do with the pope's political record. He was a strong anti-war advocate, having opposed both the 1991 Gulf War and 2003 Iraq War. Furthermore, he criticized the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza and during his 2000 tour of the region he actually visited the Palestinian refugee camp of Dheisheh.
As the above letter indicates, not only cardinals are offering up prayers during the Vatican conclave to choose the next pope. A Muslim's supplication for a successor to Pope John Paul II who will continue in his tradition represents the positive assessment of his legacy as much as the hopes for strengthening the spiritual bridges he built during his lifetime.
According to many Arab writers, the future pope will have to contend with, and should attempt to continue, the legacy of Pope John Paul II. Taysir Amari, writing in Jordan's al-Ra'i on April 6, lays out his vision of why the pope was so great. "The inhabitants of earth differ as to their views about any leader or president in the world," Amari argues, ".except his Holiness the pope, as everybody is united in honoring and appreciating him and the reason is simple: because he represents the culture of life and not the culture of death."
The pope's message to the region was not only spiritual, reminds Isa Haddad, but also contained an important social element. Writing in al-Ra'i on April 8, Haddad suggests "What we loved in this great pope was that he emphasized in every one of his meetings he had with Arab Christians that we are an indivisible part of Arab identity, and he continuously urged us to closely unite with our Muslim brethren."
Jordanians and Palestinians feel a special bond with the pope because of his historic visit to their lands in 2000. I was living in Jordan at the time and witnessed huge crowds running after the pope's motorcade, expressing uncontrollable joy at seeing the pontiff. The same scenes occurred among Palestinians when the pope visited the West Bank. A visibly moved Yasir Arafat, president of the Palestinian Authority, held the pope's hand, a common cultural practice for Arab men that symbolizes deep friendship. When the pope visited the Palestinian refugee camp of Dheisheh and made his famous impassioned statements about the ignored plight of Palestinian refugees, the awe Arabs held for the pope was so profound that the general mood was one of ecstasy.
For this reason, Yaha Ribah remembered the pope's visit to Dheisheh in a mix of spiritual and political terms. In his column in the Palestinian Alhayat Aljadeeda on April 4 Ribah writes "this man who seemed like a candle beaming light.a brave man, brave indeed, and he knew exactly what he was doing; when he came to their refugee camp, he announced a message to everyone that the camp is the issue, that the refugee is the crucified body, and that the suffering here gushes like a geyser."
Walid Mahmoud Abd al-Nasir's April 8 column in Egypt's al-Ahram, expressing the general sentiment shared by Arabs who wrote about the papal successor, states "We are spurred on by hope that the next pope will reinforce the attention given by Pope John Paul II to the Arab world and Islamic world in particular, and in [his work] in the domain of the concept of dialogue with [other] religions, civilizations, and cultures in general."
As a non-Catholic with doubts about the divine will behind the election of the next pope, Abdullah Hamudah wonders in Oman's Alwatan on April 5 "[Since] it is the opinion of many that his [Pope John Paul II's] selection was a part of a political process to rock the communist system in Eastern Europe and cause its ruin.whether this is a divine selection or a political election to determine who will be entrusted with the papal throne." Continuing with his political analysis, Hamudah suggests "if the Italian cardinals.want to return the papal office to themselves, perhaps there will be an agreement on the person of the Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze (72 years old), who lived in the Vatican and Italy a long time, as a compromise, achieving through him what everybody wants in addition to his being the first black pope in the history of the Catholic Church, exactly like Kofi Annan was the first black Secretary General of the United Nations."
Many columnists, like Hamudah, suggest that a pope from the developing world would be good for both the Catholic Church and Arabs. While it is believed that an African pope would probably bring more practical experience in working with Arabs and Muslims, any successor from the developing world would understand from first-hand knowledge the many economic and social ills that also afflict the Arab world.
This interpretation is most unambiguous in the April 4 editorial in the London-based pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi: "[As] all eyes turn to the Vatican in order to learn the identity of the new pope who will succeed the late pope.it is hoped that this time he will be from the African continent, or from the Third Word, as the people of the Third World form 65 percent of the Catholics in the world [and] it is their right that the leader of the Vatican is one of them."
Peter C. Valenti, a freelance writer and translator, teaches Islam and Modern Middle East History at New School University.
By Jana Schroeder
Speculation in the Mexican press over the choice of the next pope has focused on the profile, more than on assessing any particular candidates. Admiration for John Paul II is especially abundant here-where people are quick to remind you that Mexico was the first country he visited after becoming pope in 1978-so comparisons are inevitable. "What everyone is hoping is for a pontificate who is equally committed to humanitarian and social causes, the causes of peace, harmony, conciliation and justice, as defended from the first day to the last by the Pope who traveled around the world," José Murat wrote in El Universal (April 10).
However, although 97 percent of the cardinals who will select the next pope were named by John Paul II, "history has shown that conclaves do not select carbon copies of the pope just laid to rest" (Reforma, April 8). After such a long papacy, some commentators expect that the age of potential candidates will be a determining factor. Ezra Shabot writes in the same edition of Reforma that "sectors of the church are insisting on the selection of an older pope who will serve as a transition between the Vatican of Karol Wojtyla and the church of the 21st century."
While many analysts in Mexico indeed point to the late pope's most notable accomplishments over the course of nearly three decades, most are convinced a different profile is needed for a different era. Ezra Shabot writes: "The pedophilia of some priests, the issue of celibacy, divorce, and ethical problems derived from phenomena such as homosexuality and abortion, demand a bolder attitude on the part of the new pope, to prevent the real world from rapidly surpassing the [church's] positions, that are already notoriously out-of-date."
Some point to the "visible division" among the leaders of the Catholic Church between conservatives and moderates or reformists. "We can't expect a radical change through the succession process.however, we can at least express our hope that the new pope will come from the moderate wing of the Vatican, that he reflects the geographic distribution of Catholicism, and that he prioritizes compassion over rejection, and human rights over tradition," writes José Merino (Milenio daily, April 3).
At a press conference following John Paul II's death, Carlos Aguiar Retes, the general secretary of the Mexican Bishops' Conference, rejected the idea of ideological tendencies or groups in the conclave that could be labeled as liberal or conservative (Reforma, April 3) Among the main tasks of the next pope, Aguiar Retes emphasized the need "for the church to adapt to the rapid changes in society," and to "take root in this globalized world" where peace, justice, equality, and fraternity are often lacking. "In these aspects," he said, "we are at risk of remaining on the sidelines." (La Jornada, April 3)
According to Reforma, Aguiar Retes also addressed another key point of speculation: the possibility that for the first time in history, the next pope will be a Latin American. He was quoted as saying that with 21 voting Latin American cardinals-making up a sixth of the total conclave- there is a real chance for the region to aspire to the highest position in the Roman Catholic Church. Latin America, referred to as the "continent of hope" by Pope John Paul II, is the region with the most Catholics in the world.
In fact, Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera is included in some lists of the "papabiles." Although there is currently only brief mention in the Mexican press regarding his chances, his photograph was on the cover of the Líderes Mexicanos (Mexican Leaders) magazine in February 2002, with the headline "The Next Pope?" At that time, Roberto Blancarte, a specialist in religious affairs at Colegio de México, told Proceso magazine that Rivera's capacities should not be underestimated, but that he would not likely become the next pope, particularly because of his "lack of stature" with regard to the other papabiles.
Mexican newspapers and magazines reported this week that prospects for Rivera's candidacy may now be diminished because of a legal complaint alleging "organized crime and/or tax evasion or money laundering" recently filed against him and other members of Mexico's Catholic hierarchy for keeping donations intended for construction of a shrine. And, perhaps more important, other Latin Americans are mentioned more frequently, especially Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Mexican commentators are more focused on the next pope coming from somewhere in the Third World. If so, Esteban Israel wrote in a Reforma news report, "We can expect the Vatican to be more sensitive to the concrete problems facing the 1.1 billion Catholics, than to theologians." In Latin America alone there are 224 million people living in poverty.
"Many are aware of the need for the Church to abandon its European centricity if it wishes to evangelize the African and Asian world," the famed Brazilian priest Frei Betto wrote in El Universal (April 9). "A black pope or one with almond-shaped eyes would be a strong indication of a change of path."
In an op-ed published in El Universal, Jean Meyer, a historian of religion and director of the Division de Historia of the Center for Teaching and Research in Economics in Mexico City, said that although there are many Italian cardinals, and the Europeans have the majority in the College of Cardinals, many of them may in fact be in favor of a new pope from Africa, Asia, or the Americas. For his part, however, Meyer resists the temptation of trying to guess who the next pope will be. One reason, he says, is that there are too many possible candidates with too many strong points in their favor. And he reminds us of the many "surprise popes" announced by the white smoke signaling "we have a pope."
Jana Schroeder is a journalist in Mexico City.
By William Karanja
Attention throughout the African press has now shifted to the issue of papal succession, and the question of who will be the next pope is on everyone's lips. Although a number of names of the most likely successors have been floated, there is consensus among African commentators that there is no clear favorite. From Africa, which is home to 130 million Catholics, two names have emerged. These are 72-year-old Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, who works at the Vatican as the Prefect for Congregation for Divine Worship, and Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa, currently the Archbishop of Durban and President of Southern Africa Catholic Conference.
Francis Arinze, whose country, Nigeria, has 30 million Catholics, has long been regarded as a likely contender. His docket includes arranging interfaith dialogue between Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, and other denominations. He has been described as urbane, astute, and charming. He has also been described as a conservative and upholds most of the church's policies. His positions on issues such as abortion, condoms, marriage for priests, etc. are well known and non-controversial. ''His experience in religiously divided Nigeria illustrates many of his positives-he has experience at first hand between Muslims and Christians and has served for many years at the Vatican, making him an insider,'' says an editorial in Nairobi's Daily Nation. ''If a black pope will emerge from this enclave, then he has as good a chance as anyone if not better than most,'' adds the editorial.
Cardinal Wilfred Napier has served the church well in Southern Africa and is described as charismatic and conservative.
These cardinals made a very strong impression as men of holiness with an outstanding sense of justice and service to the poor and the downtrodden. Africa is beaming with confidence, because a large number of factors seem to favor the continent in so far as the selection of the new pope is concerned. Despite the fact that Africa is the continent where the church is growing fastest, the last African pope reigned some 1,500 years ago. There have been three African popes in all: Saint Victor, who reigned from 189-199 as the 14th pope; Saint Miltiades (311-314) the 32nd pope; and Saint Gelasius I (492-496), who was the 49th pope.
The selection of an African would send a powerful message that the Catholic Church is the true church of the developing world and underscore the fact that "Europe is no longer the centerpiece of Catholicism,'' according to an editorial in the East African Standard.
But as Mwangi Githahu of the Daily Nation observed, "Experience has shown that the church has a tendency to overlook the favorite candidate,'' adding that "even Pope John Paul II was an underdog when he was selected in 1978.". The People newspaper concludes in an editorial, "It is hoped that the cardinals will be guided by the Holy Spirit in the polls to give Catholics a shepherd, a light for mankind, and an international crusader for the common good."
The continent is quite aware that with only 11 out of 117 cardinals who will participate in the conclave coming from Africa, chances of electing an African pope are very slim indeed. However, this weakness is countered by the fact that a large number of the voting cardinals come from other developing countries. It is also hoped that racism will not be a factor in the pope's appointment, as Philip Ochieng of the Sunday Nation puts it, "Because the Catholic Church is a worldwide institution with a multiracial following, it should be color blind, and yet the issue of race continues to dog the election of its leader.''
Some African writers have raised the possibility that the conclave would find other obstacles to choosing a pope from Africa, including concerns about his fealty to church doctrine and adherence to indigenous religious practices. The story of former Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo of Zambia was frequently cited as an example. Milingo claimed he had special healing powers, started performing tribal exorcism rituals, and was finally summoned to Rome in 1979 and instructed to cease his healing activities. He refused to follow the Vatican's instructions and was forced in 1983 to step down from his post. He later left the church and got married in the Unification Church, before publicly declaring that he had been brainwashed, begging the pope's forgiveness, and returning to the fold after being pardoned by Pope John Paul II.
The words of Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Germany as quoted in The Sunday Nation, may put to rest the fears raised by the followers of the Catholic Church in Africa: "We need a credible, convinced, and convincing successor to Saint Peter, who will also be measured against Pope John Paul II. But not in the sense of a copy, color of the skin, origin, and certain other issues that have been mentioned, which will not be of any significance in this historic exercise."
William Karanja is a journalist in Nairobi.