Dr. Edward Kissi of USF, Tampa, Fl. reflects on the possibility of a black Pope
John Paul II has passed. In his final days of agony or bliss (depending on one's interpretation) as he prepared to meet His Maker, the Western press descended into one of the paradoxes of their craft. They seemed too eager for a papal funeral while the Pontiff was still alive. Some networks, ironically fair and balanced, even announced the Pope's death before he actually passed. It appears then that his death presented the Western media with something more significant than his final days of life. Today, coverage of the Pope's death has also become a competition over facial expressions of sorrow. Anchors of network and cable television clad in mourning clothes sit morose and read their cues from teleprompters with frozen countenance. They utter every syllable with care and respect as if with dire warning that they risk losing Catholic viewers and advertising money if they appeared not too sad enough in their coverage of the Pope's death. Beyond materialist religiosity on cable TV, we are now witnessing marketable sorrow. But that is noble, if even for a brief moment solemnity returns to abrasive screens. But it is the choice of John Paul II's successor that I contemplate now. The Church has a unique opportunity to tear asunder centuries of "Darwinist" thought in its inner sanctums and let its choice of John Paul's successor be a "black" "African." The meaning of that impossible, but wise choice will echo far and wide and affirm that in the institutions that preach equal human worth, black and African priests are called to be integrated and not merely around to be tolerated. But if the openly derided, but secretly nurtured presumptions of black inferiority are allowed to linger in the hearts of members of the College of Cardinals who would have to choose John Paul's successor, and the world's catholics who would have to accept a Black Pope, then not even the institutions that preach the humanity of all God's people can be bold enough to confront the enduring symbolisms of color. The Church's institutional images continue to be predominantly White. Yet its most ardent followers and devotees are non-White. The continuing upsurge of catholic religious worship in Africa and Latin America, and its steady decline in Europe and North America, suggests that a non-White Pope---possibly a Black African---can, today, embody what is left of the Church. The question becomes: In choosing a Pope what and who does the Catholic Church consider to be "appropriate" and "customary."? Many were surprised when a less well-known Polish priest was chosen as the new Pope over a much preferred Italian Pontiff as many considered appropriate and customary. A Black African as a United Nations Secretary General must also have come as a huge surprise to some who claim that the world has never really opened its doors to Blacks or Africans. The Church can reinforce this trend toward inclusion by choosing a Black Pope. It would be interesting to see how the Western press and much of the world would present and cover this phenomenon. It may be the choice that would begin the necessary conversation we as human beings are yet to have over race and the symbolisms of color in our social and cultural imagination. The Church played a part in the social construction of race, at a negative level, in the past (Remember that a Catholic priest Bartolomew de Las Casas justified enslavement of Africans by asserting that Black people did not have souls). The same Church and those who speak in its name can, in its choice of an Africa Pope, help start a process of reflection on the meaning and privileges of race. While it is not too remote to contemplate an African Pope, I am as doubtful as Thomas that the Church's electoral college of cardinals and its many faithful, both in Africa and elsewhere, have cleansed their minds, memories and hearts of the remaining negative perceptions of blackness. Even in the symbolisms of color, the smoke that announces "habermus papam" from the chimneys of the basilica is White when there is the joy and serenity of a choice of a Pope, and Black when there is the confounding deadlock and the dim prospect of such a choice. There may be more meaning to this than mere smoke. Color matters even to the Church. For me, I await "habermus papam Africanus!" I doubt it, but John Paul II said: Be not Afraid. Just a Thought!