Cloudy, Rainy Vatican as Cardinals start voting
Francis Ngwa Niba in Vatican City, Rome Italy
That’s the news flash you get on most Italian TV Stations these days. All eyes and ears are now tuned to the smallest nation state on earth as 115 cardinals yesterday began the most secretive voting ritual in modern history. The process officially began with a thanks giving mass attended by all the voters now charged with selecting a new leader for 1.2 Billion Catholics around the world after the last pope Benedict XV1 abdicated, the first to do so in more than 600 years.
At 85, Pope Benedict thought he was just too old and infirm to continue to carry out his duties. Thousands of journalists around the world and hundreds of TV stations are carrying the events live because it matters who becomes the next pope. Though technically a leader without a title (as Canadian motivational speaker Robin Sharma will say) the pope still weilds extraordinary invincible power and controls a vast empire rich in colour, tradition, folklore and undisclosed wealth.
Politics of religion
We at Iroko thought it necessary to cover this event live and deployed the necessary resources to do that because we think it is time Africa also produces a pope. That is now looking as unlikely as wishing the Italian weather to improve overnight. It rained cats and dogs yesterday and the more than 3000 faithfuls and tourists who watched yesterdays’ events live needed umbrellas to shield them from the rain. Top favourites for the post according to most commentators and italian papers are two cardinals one from Europe (where Catholicism is almost dead) the second from Latin America where about 42 percent of the world’s catholics live. Cardinal Peter Turkson, once Africa’s best hope from Ghana (where catholicism is growing fasteston earth) appears to have fallen from the radar. Officially, he shot himself in the foot when he inadvertedly put himself in the running when shortly after Pope Benedict’s resignation, he said he will like the job himself.
Open campaigning is banned but the whole process is political campaigning at the highest and most secretive level; camps emerged soon after Benedict’s resignation and each of these camps have been campaigning vigoriously and secretly briefing the press on their campaigning. That is how the press gets to know who is favourite and can confidently name them. Iroko will not play the name game and so will not name any names! Suffice to say that the name of our favourite is not mentioned anywhere. When I ask Catholic sister Agu Veronica frm Nigeria who she thinks should be the next pope, she answers quickly “…of course it will be great if an African is elected as the next pope. It is time Africa also produces a pope”. The bespectacled Veronica adds that she will “accept the will of God”, tacit admission that getting an African pope is now as unlikely as scalling mount Kilimanjaro with skiing gear! Nabil Musa, a Seminarian from Sudan will like to be a priest, a bishop and a cardinal one day. When I ask if he will like to be pope, he smiles and does not answer. His reply speaks volumes. On if the cardinals must now elect an African, he says, “the question of whether a pope is from Africa, from Asia or from where-ever, is not an issue for us…We need a Pope who can speak for the universal church. He should not only look into African 0r Asian problems, he should be able to look into universal issues”.
Looking out for the white smoke
Opinion was also sharply divided when I asked a couple of other Africans I met in St Peter’s Square if they thought it was time to get an African pope. Most of them thought the idea of an African pope is wishful thinking simply because the figures d’t add up. Only 11 of the 115 cardinals who will be voting are from Africa. Like in other areas of internatinal politics, you hardly ever hear about them. The African voice is always silent. Apart from Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana and Francis Arinze from Nigeria, how many Africans even know the names of the other nine cardinals? I know a certain Christian cardinal Tumi from Cameron because I am from Cameroon.
Funfare and waiting for white smoke
In the coming hours and days, all eyes around the world will be fixed on a specially designed chimney on top of the Sistene Chapel in the vatican. When black smoke pops out from the chimney (as it often does many times before a new pope is announced) It means the cardinals are still politely disagreeing to agree. When white smoke pops out, it means they have finally thrown away their differences and rallied round one cardinal. Shortly afterwards, a statement is made from the red velvet window of the Vatican announcing the name and title of the new pope and officially, presenting him to the world for the very first time. Before that happens though, we must remember most of this is elaborate, stage-managed theatre, expertly planned and executed by unseen, unmarried men. (The vatican is the only city on earth with a vero birthrate, no pre-natal clinics and pregnant women!) These unseen men are the real powers behind the face of the cardinal they finally chose and present to the world as Pope.
Theoritically, the cardinals can chose anybody from the 1.2 billion baptized Cathlics on earth but don’t hold yur breath, yours truely, a baptized Roman Catholic will NOT be the one; Cardinals are very conservative. If you have access to the names of one of the 115 cardinals voting, you can safely bet on my life that one of them will be pope. Befre that happens, thousands f people will be marching into and ut f the vatican hoping that are there at the exact magical mment; when the white smoke pops out. The vatican is now a beehive of activities with radside vendors, pizza, bars and souvenir shops in the vicinity making brisk business. The waiting will only end when white smoke pops out from the vatican.
The question about Chi sera papa? then will be answered and we will have to wait again until the lucky selected Pope dies or against all odds, decides to resign like Pope Benedict.
The vissicitudes of Life just grind on and on and on.
In the next of our series from the vatican, we visit the stately St Peter’s Basilica, the best known classic relic of the Catholic church and where the bodies of Pius XX111 (the Good pope et al) and the tomb of Pope John Paul 11 are on public display.