Fr. Attah Anthony Agbali, a regular contributor to this forum, gives us his words to ponder:
This Pope and The Next Pope: A Global Icon and a Local Spirit
The era of Pope John Paul II seems to be drawing to a close. As I write my eyes are misty with tears, because this is a Pope of my generation, an icon of moral leadership and global hope and stability in the midst of the chaos of our times both in the Church and the wider world. This Pope transversed the entire universe with a force that is unparalleled in Papal history, and touched the hearts of many, including many non-Catholics. His fervent appeals and persona has resonated in spaces and places, and in the minds of people from all works of life. Recently, I was reading some articles in the Review of Social Economy and realized that the impact of the Pope's Social teachings especially in Laboren Exercens (On Human Labor), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Solidarity), Redemptoris Hominis (The Redemption of Humans), Centesimus Anus (The Hundred Year) as it relates to the world of economic organization, labor, human dignity, solidarity, and a call to critical reordering of the Keynesian economic model does not stop at the doors of the Church. Many took note and validated his position on these issues as critical and timely. Even, in our contemporary world his nuanced term "The Culture of Life" as opposed to a "Culture of death" is resonating in global, and specifically American parlance. This was a Pope of modern times, a true phenomenon of the Second Vatican Council which focused on the role of the Church in Modern times among other issues. This papacy of John Paul II addressed many of the emergent issues of the council, offering guidelines and directives. Yet, this Pope is a multicultural one who integrated all peoples, races, and cultures into the dynamic functioning of the Church's operation at all levels. He was truly multicultural and had a positive appeal in his charm for young people who navigate a rapidly changing and transformative cultural spheres. He offered moral and spiritual guidelines in such matters too.
Now, I know what this Pope mean to me and many other African Catholics. This Pope continued to privilege Africa and noted that whenever he was on the continent for his visits he feels very refreshed. He pursued issues critical to the evolution and consolidation of the faith in Africa, thus sanctioning inculturation theology from the sidebar into the mainstream of theological and ecclesial discourse. During his reign the Zairean rites of the liturgy was approved, in spite of certain modifications. He urged Africans to stamp Christianity with their cultural identity, in line with the heritage of the Catholic faith and traditions, thus calling for the integration of the dual or multiplex heritages that constitutes the ecological and mental cosmology of the African Christian. He reached out to all faiths including adherents of the African Traditional Religions. In 1994, the African Synod was held in Rome, thus generating critical discourse and participative dialogue across the continent and beyond, thereafter he visited Africa to launch the fruits of the synodal assembly.
This Pope made more Africans into Cardinals among them Francis Cardinal Arinze (Nigeria), Paul Cardinal Tumi (Cameroon), Anthony Cardinal Okogie (Nigeria) and others in Ghana, Zambia, and elsewhere. Cardinal Arinze was called to Rome and has been very visible in the affairs of the Universal Church heading at the moment the Congregation for Divine Worship after working with the Commission on Non-Christian Religious dialogue. He handled to settle amicably the issue of the marriage of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo in 2001 in a Moonie Church ceremony, thus easing his return to the fold without rancour. Also the Pope elevated many Africans into the exclusive club of the saints, hitherto an hegemony of whites and westerners. Today, a Sudanese woman and our Nigerian Blessed Cyprian Tansi have come close into this exclusive chamber. Thanks to the gratitiousness and large heart of our Pope. Through his stance regarding the mission, and the role of Africans, today African missionaries, though very marginalized still, are replicating the missionary work in the West helping to "give back" to those who nurture their faith back in the days. Now, in spite of their deep accents, these accents have made an in-road into the cacophonic hegemony of the Catholic entity, that defines itself as universal or global, ever prior to globalization becoming a catch word. Thanks too to the Pope, unlike in 1978, two Nigerian Cardinals (Arinze and Okogie) and many more Africans would be in the next Papal conclave (the Sistine Chapel where the election would be held by locked-in Cardinals below age 80).
Yes, this is the Pope that has dominated most of my young and adult life until now. I remember in 1978, the year of the three Popes. It was at our local Church at St. Joseph Ayangba that the news first was announced when Pope Paul VI died. I remembered the image of his face printed on the annual missionary collection (AMC) fund card, and I felt terribly sad, because I have gotten so used to this image around our house and church. Then, our Pastor (Parish Priest) a Canadian Holy Spirit, Fr. Fernando Cote requested for prayers on behalf of the Church and specifically for the repose of the dead Pope, and for the emergence of a newly, holy spirit filled, and best candidate for the office of Pope. I remembered my parents praying fervently for the dead Pope and the help of the Holy Spirit for the election of the best candidate as the next Pope. Yes, that happened, prayers answered emerged Pope John Paul 1 (the Smiling Pope) who merely lasted about a month before his controversial demise. Thereafter came more call for prayers as in the case of the first. Kneels dropping, dripping tongues wasting salivas in other to gain favors, went aflamed in ectastic fervent. God again, truly answered his people, God gave them the Pope. Yes, God did it, though they were quite conscious of the fact that it was the work of the Cardinals yet understood as under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit working for the good of God's beloved church.
But hardly did most of the folks around here know the intricacy of the process. My father, a history and geography teaching, seemed to have known somewhat, therefore taking pride in educating folks, especially my "benighted Protestant but Catholic convert." What a joy it was for Dad to be teacher, as my mom calls him informally. Thus, we held Dad in high esteem, he knew how the Pope was made. What a knowledge! Dad must be intelligent we thought though his description of black smokes relative to the first, second, and third ballots, if the overwhelming majority had not elected made no sense. Even myself, it was after reading Andrew Greeley that it would make some sense, however it was until after my ordination did I dedicated my time to reading the encyclicals of both Pope Paul VI and John Paul II regarding the papal election, that it would become succinctly clear to my imagination as to how the process worked. Somethings in the Catholic faith are veiled you only know them if you are supposed to or search deeper than the depth of the ocean to discover. The only thing that made sense was that once a Pope was elected it was the white smoke that was emitted from some chimney somewhere in the Vatican. Yes, of course, in my infantile imagination, the Vatican was somewhat an extension of Heaven, it was heaven lowered down on earth, as I also assumed Jerusalem and Bethlehem were, until my father tried to conscientize me in what I considered a scandalous didactic. Here, though, was how Pope John Paul II emerged, the long globe-racing Pope with his message of ecstatic hope, critique, and encouragement. He was the Pope that I grew up with.
Yet, this was an amazing Pope. He had the nine live of the cat, no one thought he would make it in 1994 when around easter he slipped and fell in his bathroom. Each year predictions and media commentaries on his impending demise continue to rummage through our vast informatech consciousness. Yet, the man simply refused to die rather going on as if there was no disease in his body, he carried on. He showed what our human destiny should be, continue to be human until the very end, thus urging respect for the sick, elderly, and disabled as valuable members of our human community. Truly, this was and remain an amazing Pope, and whoever will wear his shoes need to know this shoes are studded with mission and marked with responsibility the kind Pope John Paul II made it. A new Pope need to be himself, adept, and cogently in charge of a Church that is markedly different since Pope John Paul II and a damaging scandal by a priestly hegemonic class, especially the American abusers of minors.
They were harrowing moments of Pope John Paul's reign are there. The ex-communication of Archbishop Leverbre, founder of the renegade St. Pius X Society and the rustication of liberation theologians and dissenting views represents some of the critical low moments of his Papacy. In fact, the 1997 ex-communication of the Sri Lankan theologian, Fr. Tissa Balasuriya without trial, and his later "in-communication" indicates how arbitrary certain decisions came to be easily pushed, accepted, and implemented by the curia during his Papacy. Further, in spite of the Pope's love for an open and culturally inclusive Church, he has been accused by feminists of being indifferent the issue of women ordination of priests and their more focal incorporation into Church affairs and management. Again, there was the issue of the American Priests scandal brought to light by The Boston Globe in 2002, which gathered a heavy storm, and which toll still remains. Unfortunately, the inability of career seeking American Bishops, afraid of offending their priests, who can rupture their existential ambition to rise- the American corporate way- within the Church hierarchy beclouded their ability to act against abusers. While hiding abusers, these bishops hurt the church and the faith the Pope is its custodian. They sinned against love and reason. In refusing to act these Bishops enhanced the violation of vulnerable segment of their own institutions in the majority of cases.
They allowed people and in some cases targeted and demeaned priests who spoke up against these abusers. In places, like Detroit, foreign priests and retired priests were used as smokescreens to protect real abusers. Abusive priests were posted to inner cities and other minority locations where many of these kids were exploited for their poverty, many coming from dysfunctional home were taken advantage of in the game for survival. I lived with one such priest who was housing young and poor black kids in the rectories for months, using money and shopping as instruments of attraction. Plus, these kids are too vulnerable, some already wounded, socially troubled that they are unable to stand up to some of these priests because of lack of resources and ignorance, as well as issues of credibility. Yet, anyone who stood up to mention such actions, like I innocently did, were sanctioned, targetted, and violated, in the hope of ensuring their silence, degradation, and rubbishing their files to forestall their advancement within the structures of the Church. Yes, all these occurred, maybe unbeknown to the Pope, during his pontificate. As much as he tried, they seemed there was little that could be done to foster the correction of such ethical and spiritual malaise within the crypt of his own Church. Ironically, some of the Cardinals that presided over this rubbish were created by this Pope, and now they too stand the chance of becoming Popes themselves, since they are electable and would equally vote.
During this threshold of the Pope's live here on earth, he has done a lot for the African Church. Today, the phenomenal growth of the African Catholic Church, and in deed Christianity in general, on the continent represent some of his action and focal mission. This Pope loved Africa and visited Africa. He called attention to African issues of ignorance, disease, violence, and war, and fervently was a voice of reason calling for assistance and support. The Pope understood African problems. Yet, at times, his very commitment to the African Church was question, as it happened in response to the Rwandan crises and the role of the Catholic Church in the massacre of Hutus and moderate Tutsis. When Archbishop Augustine Misago was released from prison human rights groups accused the Vatican and the Pope of putting pressure on the secular society. Priests and nuns were implicated in this inhumane action helping to decimate their own flocks, jubilating awashed in the blood of the Rwandan martyrs. Today, it is assumed that while this Pope calls for a New Evangelization, as a renewed efforts toward ensuring the genuine diffusion of the Christian message of love and hope; of the gospel, many in Rwanda are turning to Islam en masse as a result of the assault on their persons by the men and women of the sanctuary.
As the Pope comes to meet his savior I wish his soul well. He was truly human, and truly reflected the divine ideal in his hard years of ministry to the Church and to humanity. He was a Pope who was truly amazing in his gaeity and frailty, representing to humanity that we are all human to the very end and must cherish all that is human, facing our work and ministries conscienciously. When the bell rings and the Pope sleeps eternally, it is my hope that meeting his savior his wishes should be that the Church he's leaving behind should mirror more what the founder and savior intends it to be. May our African ancestors in the Christian faith, Blessed Cyprian Tansi, the Martyrs of Uganda, and many others pave a way of grace through their prayers for our venerable and caring brother the Pope.
The Pope our brother is African, though he is a Pole, and a Pope. Soon he may join and become part of our repertoire of African ancestors since he has always stood by Africa when other powers slumbers and snore. At this time, Africa stands with the Pope through our prayers and the invocative and intercessory aid of our African Christian ancestors as the Pope seems to be starting his journey exflowing into the estuary of another life, the one he has preached and hoped for. To the Pope may peace and joy follow you, and may you rest when that time come from all the travails and dilemma you could possibly not solve. Enter into the realm of Zamani.