Saturday, March 2, 2013

A white Papamobil for a black Pope

Pope Benedict XVI: regarded by many as a hero for his humility in accepting
his limitations and choosing to resign from the papacy

You shall know a tree by its roots too!
It is not the first puzzling thing to happen to a Pope. John Paul I the smiling Pope was Pope only for just 33 days. You can still read stories of intrigue about him. People still ask who killed him even when his family say he died of ordinary disease. Pope's are not supposed to die just like that. Neither are they meant to leave the Holy See that easily. So then people cried in 1978: 'What could it be, Oh Tiber tell us in your flow that takes away this smiling one so fast from our earth? All suspicions were muted where I was. It was God's will we were told. It was time to pray harder for the church. And people prayed and fasted for the church. Even then I heard the question I still hear now. Will the Pope be black for a change, or for just this once? The Italians had dominated the universal church with too many Popes. Other European nations were waiting for a chance. Latin America dreamt of it too. Afrika?

That the colour issue still persists points to little progress. Just like hoping and praying that the president of America would be black after all these years. And then he was. Barack Obama. And then they said he was Kenyan not American. And why Barack Hussein? Some answered he had to be an incognito Muslim, a friend of terrorists. Then in 2011, he unveiled a big statue of Martin Luther King Jr who was assassinated for believing in his people and all people. I was embarrassed that America had taken this long to give that honour to Dr. King.

Back to John Paul II. He seems to have come from a background that many felt would help him understand and change the world. He loved Literature. He liked drama and acted when he was younger. He had a heart full of love for his friends since his youth. He seemed to be marked for a special role in his life and that of the world. How could you forget the young boy after the early death of his mother doing homework with his father? His story is extraordinary. I read they even told his mother when he was in a cot he was going to be a special boy. What with a lorry running over him and he surviving that? My son would say  that is close to Fifty Cents surviving 9 bullets. And then I would tell him actually the Pope too was shot and survived because of prayer. In the ambulance, he prayed for himself, I heard, only a couple of words... "Mother, my Mother!". 

For those who knew the significance of the day and Fatima, and those who still know, this was heavy. Well, he survived and lived and to embrace Ali Agca, his life's enemy at the time.

 Even though many told him that the world loved him, John Paul always told them not everyone loved him, and they should not deceive themselves. Quite right. Why would 'another' Christ suddenly be so hip? John Paul II, rocked if I may say, don't get me wrong. Those who study him can hardly survive his depths. And so others still label him what is done to what you cannot beat. 'Conserva....'
Why, he was the only cardinal swimming in between conclave sessions at the election of John Paul I and when it was over he left fast for home. He loved the silence of the mountains. Then he was back promptly and before he knew it he wore the ring and put on the shoes of the fisherman. 

"You are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church!" He became Peter. He did not do a Quo Vadis, running away from Rome in pain but he flew longer than some pilots of his days, still holding the key of Peter well.

I saw him in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania at different times and in Rome too. When John Paul II died there were many interviews in Kenya. I was invited to some and I contributed an article for the daily newspaper on him.
St. Peter's Square in the distance. Reflection time

The year is 2013. The last two weeks have been awash with Vatican news since Pope Benedict XVI resigned. This resignation also happened just before Ash Wednesday, the day that starts a solemn 40 days for many Catholics. A time when many pilgrims flock to Roma especially during the Holy Week to receive the blessing Urbi et Orbi from the Holy Father. To see the Pope. They expected to see Benedict the XVI. Besides all that his was an un-traditional exit, not by death the death of the Pope seen as the normal mode and seen as a divine intervention but by human? design which is often not seen as divine. 

So many reasons why were given to stew up the simple explanation that the Pope himself gave. We were at scandals, Vatileaks, mafia and just name it. The Pope had to appeal again to bring back focus on his poor health and inability to be Peter the keeper of the Key of Heaven on earth.

And this in sharp contrast to his friend and immediate predecessor John Paul II who died on his sick bed after suffering for long. This too the reverse of the belief that like Peter is depicted in Quo Vadis -  "Where are you going to, Peter?" A voice asked him - He was asked to turn back and go and sit on his throne in The See of Peter. It is not supposed to be abandoned. The Pope is another Christ they say. Christ suffered up to the end. 

Today, many people feel that things have been demystified. A German Pope has said that he is lonely and cannot carry on, that he is unwell.  I wonder what would have happened if he had been from Kenya or another Afrikan country and resigned. We still confuse people with borders. 

When John Paul I died I was in Kenya. I remember the big headline. The Pope is Dead. And a black banner at the top of the headline instead of an advertisement. And Kenya is not a Catholic country. The newspaper was owned by a Muslim. There was an eerie ring around the death of John Paul I. The smiling Pope who lived as Pope for such a short stint. People around me were deeply concerned. The influence of the church spawns continents.

I think John Paul II may also have wanted to resign. But he endured Parkinsons disease and many other ailments. He stayed. He was a superstar in his 'youth' young people came to his window at night to check how he was doing in his last minutes. He had broken certain walls of bureaucracy. He was the friend of young people. 

I know that when Benedict the XVI was announced after the white smoke, I wondered if something had gone wrong. Somehow, his age and style did not seem to me to be directed at where the Church was going before but then many said that Benedict XVI was very intelligent and was the right candidate to succeed John Paul II. There is no contesting the white smoke and actually one is advised not to even talk about it.

But now again, some questions keep coming up. Don't ask me again if the Pope will be black what does it matter? If he be black and I still cannot shop a white market in peace. Europe gone right wing will monsoons begin to blow in the Black sea? 

What do I care when every black girl you see on Carl Johann Street is supposed to be a Magdalene's descendants the old profession bringing to life and continuity? We have saints. We have saint Bakhita who was a slave. She is wonderful. We have many saints who are unknown. We have many historical ones. Everyone needs more saints around them. Look at yourself after you met John Paul II or Teresa of Calcutta, now a saint. You were so smiling, the flesh of the face felt like it would cut into two and let your soul fly. I need saints around me because then am loved.

So I treasure all the ones I know and the martyrs of Uganda take priority. Look 22 were Catholics and 22 were protestants. This is a story for he big screens. I wonder why no Attenborough in his days did that a la Lawrence of Arabia. By the way, who is the Attenborough of these days... Is it the producer of 12 years a slave?
Love it all leave it, this church is got some of the most amazing stories of lives lived to the heroic moment. What does a film want? Some people would pipe back... Two and a half Men. ...The King and I, what was that about the king again? Oh, Thomas More!
No, King Henry the VIII!

North Africa is not always so pleased to be black as me from Sudan. Have you not seen that after all Augustine of Hippo will not be seen as black no matter how you try? Unless you refer to his life of debauchery first, not his intellectual abilty. Ouch, that might not be what my mother would say. Blame the university. Monica, his mother. I mean Augustine's mother, once the nordics have understood that 'Hippo' is not the animal in the water in the parks... (Unskylld!) What does that kind of diversity matter? These are the roots of the tree.

If the Pope were black he would not be pope because he is black. The Canon Law on resignation of a Pope in article 422 or any other would not change. 
There are some people who whether in the church or not imagine that they know what there is in an Afrikan who is not suppose to know very much as soon as they see one. 

Black Sisters always had to form their own convents in some congregations in Afrika because they could not live with the White Sisters. You can still find them. Who rationalises that in some congregations? All the Black Sisters to be in one convent opposite the White Sisters? When it comes to examples and the vigour of the faith in Afrika, I hear nought about the example of the martyrs of Uganda even when the church needs their example quite badly for:

"They had repeatedly defied the king by rescuing royal pages in their care from sexual exploitation by Mwanga which they believed contrary to Christian teaching"

Castel Gandolfo is calm and beautiful. Little ripples on Lake Albano know many stories. Touristic yes but also stories of the struggles of different religious groups within the Roman Catholic Church. They are many. Some are lay organisations of enormous influence such as Opus Dei. Others such as Focolare are religious organisations. There are many secular institutes a different category. In many international church groups, leadership is hardly ever Afrikan or female. Founders of organisations that are taken seriously by the church do not have roots in Afrika.
In the Roman Catholic canon of saints, there are not many from Afrika. The number only went up because of the 22 Martryrs of Uganda, both Protestant and Catholic but all of them canonised by Paul the VI in 1964 for embracing a new faith, baptising themselves and rejecting the Kabaka Mwanga's sexual advances. Only that in Uganda today they publish names of and kill people who are seen to be homosexual and the churches are mum.

Namugongo, near Kampala is a shrine dedicated to them. Most saints come from Europe. Once canonised it is said that they belong to the whole world but when Afrikan ones are elevated to the altars there is always more jubilation. It would be seen as a great thing to have an Afrikan Pope and in that rejoicing, what sadness. The more remarkable this becomes the worse the indication about the world, and this church.

I have not heard preaching against racism much in church when I went. I noticed in Europe people not eager to shake hands with Afrika. They made it quite obvious they were afraid. They kissed their partners and protected their palms in church. They bowed from afar to us. These are small things that priests never seem to observe or address from the altar.
 I waited for weeks when the scandal of priests sexually harassing people was abuzz and in the church I went to there was not a word save one fast sentence one Sunday. 
There is a need for more dialogue over many things and real challenging of ourselves.
In Africa many people believe that Jesus was a European and his mother and father it would follow. I think that would not change in the minds of many people of the continent. I think there would be fear in many quarters of Europe especially if the Pope like Barack Obama went into his family tree and found that he had a sister called Fatuma. No one would remember that there is a Fatima in Portugal. And if they went deeper into the story, there would be questions raised. I was went to Loretto in Italy. I was told that the House of Loreto flew from the Holy Land in Israel, from a spot that architects verified because Muslims were invading the area! Flew away instead of throwing the doors open to those who were living nearby. The entrance to this church today has gullies on the ground, formed by the knees of pilgrims crawling in to pray for healing just like the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.

What colour are brains? What colour is faith? The number of Great Britain's black academia is woefully down compared to the white. Promotion has trusted colour so what colour should doctrine be? If any new Pope comes into the Vatican, he has a tradition to uphold.  If there would be a doctrine change, then there would be no Catholic Church. Those waiting for a change in the Catechism of the Church are waiting for the impossible. Those who are waiting for a black pope may see one someday for of course, the Pope can come from any land. But what we need now is the people reflecting and guiding in the church. What we hope now is that the Cardinals continue in ever deeper reflection and accept the humility of change.


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