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(E) Is the Pope Italian?
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  01/24/2002 | Religion | Unrated
(E) Is the Pope Italian?
OpinionJournal THE SECRETS OF SUCCESSIONIs the Pope Italian?And why should the next one be?BY JOSEPH P. DUGGANToday Pope John Paul II will undertake a pilgrimage to Assisi, in Italy's Umbrian mountains, to pray for peace along with an alphabet of religious leaders, ranging from animists to Zoroastrians. The Pope accomplished many feats over the past 23 years, most notably staring down communists in his native Poland. But the Assisi meeting may be one of the final acts in his remarkable efforts as pontifex--an ancient imperial Roman term meaning "bridge builder." For this reason, the probable presence of John Paul's successor in Assisi--at least 33 cardinals are expected to attend--is of great interest in ecumenical affairs. The pope initiated this meeting in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, but this will be the third such gathering of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians of all denominations, and others that he's organized since 1986. By itself, the meeting represents a religious ecumenism unimaginable just two generations ago. It joins together representatives not only of all the major Western monotheistic religions that trace their common ancestry to Abraham, but also of nearly everyone on earth who believes that the human race depends on some Creator-Spirit--or even multiple deities--higher than humanity itself. The current pope's role in this transformation of interfaith relationships is hard to overstate. In 1978 the Church's College of Cardinals shattered 456 years of habit by electing a non-Italian Pope, Karol Wojtyla, from what was then Soviet-dominated Poland. The cardinals' expression of diversity in choosing a Polish pope helped promote reconciliation both within Christianity world-wide and, notably, within the political order of Europe. The Catholic Church in Italy itself, and around the world, is stronger today as a result.When the time comes to choose John Paul II's successor, what should the cardinals do for an encore? Of course, they should choose the best candidate available. But there are good reasons for reaching outside the familiar confines of Italy and Western Europe.. An American pope. As a dynamic pastor as well as a philosophy professor and one of the American church's leading intellectuals, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago probably resembles Pope John Paul more than any other U.S. prelate does. Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, a brilliant linguist, has shown impressive energy and compassion in his leadership since Sept. 11 indelibly changed his city.. A Byzantine or Syriac pope. Pope John Paul II has made restoring full relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches a persistent theme of his last few years. He says that not until the Eastern and Western churches have reunited will Christianity "breathe with both lungs." Though Russia's Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II has criticized the Pope for Catholic proselytizing in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the Roman Catholic Church and these Eastern churches have made significant progress in repairing relations.A pope who could celebrate the divine liturgy in Byzantine or Syriac rites and vestments as well as in those of the West would be an impressive example of breathing with both lungs. Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, head of the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine, is a credible candidate. He is very familiar with Western Christianity and Western secular society. Born in Ukraine, he spent much of his youth and early priesthood in the United States as a refugee from Communism. He also spent many years in Rome, becoming acquainted with how the Vatican does--and doesn't--work. Syrian Cardinal Ignace Moussa Daoud, who now heads the Vatican office for relations with the Eastern churches, could be another unifying choice.. An African pope. This would be another dramatic span across cultures and prejudices. Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria is frequently mentioned as papabile. Born into a family practicing traditional animist religion in rural Nigeria, he accepted Christianity as a child and entered the priesthood. As a youthful archbishop, he led evangelical efforts to convert scores of thousands of Nigerians to Christianity. Pope John Paul then made him a cardinal and assigned him to direct the Vatican office responsible for relations between the Catholic Church and non-Christians. His most noteworthy recent experience is as the Vatican's principal interlocutor with the Muslim world.. An East Asian pope. With intense missionary activities by both Catholics and Protestants, South Korea recently became the second East Asian country to have a Christian majority, after the Philippines, a former Spanish colony. Even Korea's president, Kim Jae Dung, is a Roman Catholic. While Korea's Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan at 79 probably is too old to be considered for the office, a Vietnamese pope is a possibility. One of John Paul's closest counselors in the Vatican, Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, spent years in Communist prisons in Vietnam as a witness to his faith. Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila also stands out for his leadership and his work for democracy and against corruption in the Philippines.. A Latin American pope. Hundreds of millions of Latin Americans are at least nominally members of the Catholic church. A pope who shares their roots and aspirations would make new strides for Christian unity. A prelate who has had no truck with dictatorship in his country has been the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino.African and Byzantine bishops of Rome are not unprecedented. During the first millennium of Christianity, there were several African and Greek popes, and even Asian popes (from Syria). And the first pope, Peter, was of course a Jew. It was only after Muhammad, when "Christendom" for a time became the same thing as Europe, that popes began to come first exclusively from Western Europe, and later from Italy.But catholic is Greek for universal, and a good way of promoting the unity of a truly universal Christian church would be to show for the first time in a thousand years that the vicar of Christ can be of any culture and from anywhere under the Son.Mr. Duggan, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, is an international affairs consultant in Washington.Copyright C 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 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