After the hectic festivities of Christmas and the New Year, January is usually a relaxed period in the Vatican. Even the Holy Father would take time to cool off and re-energise. Not so this year. The writing was on the wall – the Holy Father has been under tremendous stress and he is ready to resign!
Right from the day after New Year, the Vatican has, for want of a better expression, been on full alert. Much of it has to do with the planning for the pontiff’s 86th birthday which comes up on April 16, 2013. The Holy Father has chosen that day to rededicate himself and re-adorn himself with his proper title: “Servus Servorum Dei” (The Servant of the Servants of God).
Another dimension to the task was provided by Pope Benedict’s personal anguish and dismay over a new global epidemic – senseless killings. It all goes back to September 11, 2001 when the world stared in disbelief and utter shock at the devastation of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, New York, United States of America. This was accompanied by the attack on the Pentagon, Washington DC. By the time the carnage was over, 3,000 people had perished.
On July 7, 2005 in London, which had been a haven of peace, bombs went off in underground train stations and buses. 2012 followed with the same pattern of senseless killings – Afghanistan; Syria; Mali, etc. Even in post-apartheid South Africa, thirty-four protesting miners were shot by the police. In Nigeria, the victims of the terror unleashed by Boko Haram run into thousands and we are still counting.
This Pope is determined to make a difference by grabbing the bull by the horn. The root cause of it all is MALICE. The Vatican will launch a global initiative against the worst form of cancer – malice. 2013 has been declared the “Year of Faith”. The official announcement from the Vatican reads as follows: “Pope Benedict XVIth‘s fourth encyclical is scheduled to be published during Lent. It is dedicated to the subject of Faith and released to coincide with the Year of Faith. The encyclical will be used by the Pope to offer encouragement to a world in crisis. It will follow three other encyclicals during this pontificate: two on the other theological virtues of charity, Deus Caritas Est (2005); and hope, Spe Salvi (2007); and a ‘social encyclical’ – Caritas in Veritate (2009).”
What is actually happening is a rigorous post-mortem on 2012. The Holy Father has insisted that regardless of the turbulence, the Vatican must remain cool, calm and collected. Response to whatever crisis erupted was driven by the strategy of restraint and forgiveness. Absolutely no heightening of tension or the instigation of false alarms. Definitely no vengeance. The huge challenge is whether the policy can be sustained in 2013 without running the risk of decimating the Catholic folk. The new strategy is anchored on the realisation that even Faith requires a “Stimulus Package” and “Bail-out” funding. The ultimate question is whether there is a Debt Ceiling with regard to our relationship with God. Can we owe him so much and yet refuse to acknowledge it or pay?
The Holy Father does not intend to cool his heels in the Vatican brooding. He is already committed to visit Rio de Janeiro in June for World Youth Day. There may also be visits to Panama and Colombia, but these are yet to be confirmed. Everything depends on whether he chooses to stay or quit entirely. What has been officially listed is that Pope Benedict XVI will hold two consistories of new Cardinals this year. The number of Cardinals under the age of 80, the only ones eligible to vote for a new Pope, will be ten short of the maximum limit of 120 by October 19, 2013. February and October are the months selected for the cardinal-making events. In addition, in May the Pontiff will welcome all the Church’s ecclesial movements in St Peter’s Square.
As confirmation that the Holy Father is determined to reach out, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, addressed the seventy “Senior Elders” from Nigeria and invited them to the Pope’s first-ever meeting with all the Church’s apostolic nuncios, papal delegates and permanent observers to international organisations. The meeting is scheduled for June and it is being convened in order to underscore the need for “an exchange of experiences to deepen the feeling of mission for the pontifical representatives during the Year of Faith”.
The seventy “Senior Elders” from Nigeria have been granted accreditation. They are in St Peter’s Square on a mission – to pray for God’s divine intervention in the affairs of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. We have also been invited to the meeting of pro-life advocates to be hosted by the Holy Father in the Vatican on June 16, 2013. The event is dedicated to the gospel of life and a resounding condemnation of senseless killings, driven by malice and hatred. Our prayer is that the pontiff will remain at his post.
Pope Benedict XVI has never concealed his keen interest in what is going on in Nigeria – particularly the bombing of churches and the massacre of worshippers. The Holy Father believes firmly in objectivity and reaching out. Hence, The Nigerian Tribune of January 28, 2013 was spot on with its editorial, “The Sultan’s Home Truth”. Part of the editorial read: “In a marked departure from the usual position of northern leaders on the cause of the Boko Haram insurgency, the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar III, said at a recent forum in Kaduna that the North was responsible for its own woes. As he counselled dialogue rather than use of force as a way out of the problem, the Sultan pungently made the point that the insecurity and associated challenges bedevilling the North were self-inflicted. Abubakar, who is the president-general of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), said: ‘Whatever that is happening in the North is our own doing because we did not do what we are supposed to do.’”
In reaching out, the Holy Father has pitched his tent with those who have counselled that maybe the Catholic Church has been over-cautious to the point of being too rigid or complacent. Now is the time for the re-alignment of forces to deal with the deficit of trust and confidence between those who rule and those who are ruled. The only contenders in the arena are split between rage and outrage – leaving Christians, particularly Catholics, as the most vulnerable.
Regardless, the Pope is determined to demonstrate that he is firmly in control. A major item on the Holy Father’s diary comes up in October when he is expected to canonize 802 holy men and women in the same ceremony – 800 martyrs from Otranto, Italy, massacred in 1480 out of hatred for the Christian faith. Included in the list is Mother Laura, the first Colombian saint, and a Mexican nun, Mother Maria Guadalupe.
The major thrust of the Pontiff’s strategy of reaching out is to tackle what the Vatican describes as “Spiritual Fiscal Cliff”. The departure of Miguel Diaz, the American ambassador to the Holy See, has left a critical gap. He has returned to the academia. The new American Secretary of State, and former presidential candidate, John Kerry, has authorised a search warrant for a candidate who is a close ally of President Barack Obama or at least sympathetic to his policies while at the same time, he (or she) must also enjoy the confidence of US Catholic bishops and be acceptable to the Holy See – especially whoever succeeds Pope Benedict XVI.