Wednesday, April 20, 2005


The new pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church was elected on Tuesday night in Rome. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the favorite candidate and Dean of the College of Cardinals became Pope Benedict XVI.

I can't say that I'm not a little weirded out by Joseph Ratzinger taking the name Benedict, but I also can't say I wasn't warned! (See the entry below.)

I've had several readers ask me about "black Benedict" and what it could possibly mean. The Benedict part is pretty obvious, I guess. The name means "blessed one" or "blessing", as in benediction. I was at home watching after the white smoke started billowing out of the Sistine Chapel's chimney and the bells were ringing in St. Peter's Square, and when it was announced that Benedict was the name of the next pope, I was in shock. It seemed that my dream wasn't just the result of some randomly firing synapses; it was a message.

But if it really was some sort of a message, the "black" part is a little more cryptic. I don't know what it means, and I may never know. One reader suggested "darkness," and that would make sense - if the message was in Spanish, I don't know the Spanish word for "darkness," so "black" would have been a close second.

Here's my take on how "black Benedict" may relate to darkness. A lot of the priests interviewed on TV today postulated that Benedict XVI had taken his name to pay homage to the original St. Benedict born in 480 AD. Today, the St. Benedict medal is quite popular, as St. Benedict often used the cross to drive away demons and fight forces of darkness. In fact, the prayer that accompanies the St. Benedict medal is one associated with exorcisms:

Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux; (May the Holy Cross be my light;)
Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux . (Let not the Dragon be my guide.)
Vade retro Satana! (Begone Satan!)
Nunquam suade mihi vana. (Suggest not to me thy vain things.)
Sunt mala quae libas; (The drink you offer is evil;)
Ipse venena bibas. (Drink that poison yourself.)

So, who knows? That's my best estimate of what black may possibly mean. Pope Benedict XVI is very traditional, very orthodox. Perhaps he will lead the Church in a fight against darkness.

Or maybe I misunderstood the word altogether. But one thing I didn't misunderstand was Benedict, and that part of the dream came to pass.

Odd, huh? And to think, a week ago, I didn't have much use for prophecy.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


I'm not really big into end-times prophecy. It's something that's interesting, for sure, but I don't spend a lot of time interpreting events around me and trying to tie them to the Book of Revelations. A lot of folks, especially in more conservative Protestant circles, see signs in all kinds of events: the recent tsunami in South Asia, September 11th, hunger, famine, war, etc.

I guess I don't see these disasters as being particularly worse than a whole range of others disasters that have occurred throughout history. The 20th century was a particularly bloody one, but war is hardly unique to these times. There has always been hunger and famine, and natural disasters have taken their tolls on civilization throughout the ages. Signs of an approaching Armageddon can be made to make sense, but I'm usually pretty skeptical of them nonetheless.

That's why I'm a little bit taken aback at some things that I've found out over the last couple of days.

Yesterday morning I had a dream that didn't seem all that out of the ordinary considering recent events. In the dream I was walking with John Paul II and he was telling me about who the next pope would be. With the pope's death all over the news for the past week and speculation about who would be his successor, the dream wasn't all that strange, I guess.

In it, John Paul II - speaking in Spanish (could have been Italian or Latin, but since Spanish is the only foreign language I know, it came out as Spanish) - told me that the next pope would be "black Benedict." I thought about it after I woke up, and guessed that the next pope would take the name Benedict and would be black. That's a possibility; Cardinal Francis Arinze of Africa is on the short list of cardinals in contention for the papacy. I don't know where the name Benedict came from, although I had been looking at information on recent popes and came across Benedict the XV who was pope from 1914 to 1922.

Today, I did a little more searching around at Catholic prophecy. Aside from the Christian prophecies that all denominations share, Catholicism has its own unique prophecies. The other day I had come across the prophecy of St. Malachy, and I decided to look into it a little more today.

According to St. Malachy's prophecy, made nearly 900 years ago, there are only two popes remaining before "the end." While in Rome to see Pope Innocent II in 1139, St. Malachy received a vision of all of the successors to the papacy until the end of time. He wrote down what he recalled of the vision, but it remained hidden for another 400 years. Since being published, the results of his prophecy have proved to be, well, prophetic. If nothing else, there are some strange coincidences over a list of 112 popes, where he lists brief descriptions of each until the end of time. For instance:

- Celestine II, Innocent II's successor, was described as ex castro Tyberis, or "from a castle on the Tiber." Celestine II was born in Citta di Castello, Tuscany, on the shores of the Tiber River.

- John XXII (1316-1334) was predicted as de sutore osseo, of the cobbler of Osseo. John XXII's family name was Ossa, and he was the son of a shoe-maker.

- He calls Nicholas V (1328-1330) the corvus schismaticus, the schismatic crow. Nicholas V was an antipope during this period of schism within the Church.

- Benedict XV was described as religio depopulata, religion laid waste. He reigned during the Bolshevik Revolution which later saw the establishment of Communism, in which atheism was the law of the land.

...and now for some really eerie ones:

- John Paul I was listed as de medietate Lunae, of the half of the moon. He was born in the diocese of Belluno, which means beautiful moon, and when he was elected pope on August 26, 1978, he served for only about a month, from one half of the moon to the other half.

- John Paul II's description - de labore Solis - can be interpreted as "of the eclipse of the sun," or "from the labour of the sun." He was born on May 18, 1920 during a solar eclipse. He came from Poland in the east, where the sun rises. He can also be seen as the fruit of the intercession of the Woman Clothed with the Sun from Revelation 12 (the Pope attributed his surviving the 1981 assassination attempt to the intercession of the Virgin Mary). The Pope's funeral took place last Friday while a solar eclipse was visible in the Americas.

OK, so those are just a few examples of a lot of strange coincidences from St. Malachy's prophecy. Here's the one that gave me chills. Remember in my dream, John Paul II told me that the next pope would be "black Benedict."

The description St. Malachy gives the next pope is gloria olivae, which could mean olive skin or that he comes from a place where olives are plentiful (Italy, France, or Spain). But, it turns out that one group of Catholics has long claimed that this pope will come from their order - the Benedictines. I haven't found out why they've traditionally thought that, yet, but I'm searching.

The coincidences continue. "Black Benedict" could mean several different things, but since the Benedictines have been claiming this pope for a while now, I did a little research on the Benedictine Order. Do you know what they're often referred to as?

"Black monks."

Thursday, April 07, 2005


Pope John Paul II's death has rightly dominated the headlines for the past six days. The massive line of hundreds of thousands of mourners (which could be seen snaking through the streets of Rome via satellite photos) proves just how powerful and influential the Pope and the Catholic Church still are all over the world. His funeral tomorrow will draw together hundreds of the strangest bedfellows - clergy and clerics from all religions and world leaders who would just as soon make war on each other. But for John Paul II, they will stand together at peace: the President of the United States and the President of Iran. Could the power of the Christian faith be any more apparent than in this ability to bring together world leaders of opposite stripes?

The Catholic Church is an immensely powerful organization. Even though it has lost much of the sway that it once held in the world, the Pope's death and the influence it is having on people worldwide should be proof enough of the grasp that Catholicism still has on mankind. Over one billion people on earth (one-sixth of the population) identify as Catholics, and John Paul II's passing will likely revitalize interest in the Church once again, if only temporarily.

The ceremonial procedures over the next few days will be awesome, to say the least. Catholics and non-Catholics everywhere are enamoured with the funeral, the scripted mourning period, and the papal selection process, much like many people are swept up in the flair of the British royalty. John Paul II is being memorialized by every possible news source and by anyone who can get a spot of TV time or a section of print. Fond memories of the Pope are shared: his humble beginnings, rough life under a Nazi regime and then under communism, his peaceful opposition to oppressive Eastern European governments, and his message of inclusiveness and openness.

Still, I am concerned that the media's focus is on the man and not his message.

Most media outlets are ignoring the Pope's most important title: Christ's Vicar on Earth. Catholicism is much, much more than the pomp and circumstance, the rituals and the ceremonies that are being shown on TV. The Christian message is getting completely cheated by the sensational focus on procedure.

The Pope was a wonderful person who worked for important secular goals like world peace and justice for the poor. However, those works were reflections of his religious ideals and his rock-solid faith in Jesus Christ and Christianity. The work he did was not just for the betterment of mankind; it was to prepare the way for Christ's Kingdom on Earth.

The fantastic ceremony that is now taking place at the Vatican is engrossing, and it's easy to see how Christ's message and the teachings of Pope John Paul II can play second fiddle to the whole ordeal. But they shouldn't. Christians shouldn't be content to pay half-hearted homage to the Pope; they should seek out his real teachings and read some of his extensive writings. I'll guarantee they aren't self-congratulating; they are humble teachings about how to best follow in Jesus' footsteps.

During these next few weeks, let the media talk of John Paul II's life and his secular achievements. After all, he's quite accomplished in that regard, as well, and certainly deserves praise for his work on Earth. But remember, the Pope had a higher purpose - he called us all to be faithful followers of Christ.

Dear young men and women! Trust Christ; listen attentively to his teachings, fix your eyes on his face, persevere in listening to his word. Allow him to focus your search and your aspirations, all your ideals and the desires of your heart.
-- John Paul II, August 2004

Monday, April 04, 2005


I wrote a couple of stories about Pope John Paul II for the Collegian. This is one that didn't make it in, but the better of all of them, I thought:

Pope John Paul II, leader of the world’s one billion Catholics, died Saturday in his private apartment in Vatican City. The 84-year-old pontiff suffered from many ailments including Parkinson’s disease and arthritis.

After a recent tracheotomy, Vatican officials continuously reported on the Pope’s failing health. On Thursday, he came down with a fever caused by a urinary tract infection, and on Friday he experienced a cardiocirculatory collapse.

As his major organs began to fail, the pontiff was surrounded by his closest aides.

According to a Vatican statement, “The Holy Father's final hours were marked by the uninterrupted prayer of all those who were assisting him in his pious death and by the choral participation in prayer of the thousands of faithful who for many hours had been gathered in Saint Peter's Square.”

Archbishop Stanislow Dziwisz led a Mass for the Pope earlier on Saturday. The pontiff was once again administered the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and received his final Communion, called the viaticum by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Speaking to a large crowd of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri said that the Pope died at 9:37 p.m Central Europe Time (1:37 pm CST). Sandri asked for a moment of silence. Then he spoke.

“Let perpetual light shine on him, and let him repose in peace,” Sandri said to thunderous applause.

As Catholics mourned the death of the Pope, leaders from around the world praised John Paul II and his 26 years as Supreme Pontiff.

In a brief statement at the White House Saturday afternoon, President George Bush said, “Laura and I join people across the Earth in mourning the passing of Pope John Paul II. The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd, the world has lost a champion of human freedom, and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home.”

Bush referred to the Pope as a “hero for the ages,” and said, “John Paul II was, himself, an inspiration to millions of Americans, and to so many more throughout the world. We will always remember the humble, wise and fearless priest who became one of history's great moral leaders.”

Bush met the Pope three times during his life and presented the pontiff with the Presidential Medal of Freedom when he visited the Vatican in June 2004. He has ordered U.S. flags be flown at half staff in honor of the Pope.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sade the pontiff was a man of peace who was “extremely concerned about the world we lived in, and like me, he also felt that in war, all are losers.”

Lech Walesa, leader of the Polish Solidarity movement which installed Eastern Europe’s first post-communist government, praised John Paul II’s peaceful opposition to communism. “(Without the Pope) there would be no end of communism or at least much later and the end would have been bloody,” he said.

Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom called the Pope’s death a “great loss...for humanity as a whole,” and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said, “We will miss him as a distinguished religious figure, who devoted his life to defending the values of peace, freedom and equality. He defended the rights of Palestinians, their freedom and independence.”

Pope John Paul II was born Karol Józef Wojtyla on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland. He secretly studied to become a priest during Nazi occupation, and was ordained in 1946. He finished his doctorate of theology in 1948.

While Wojtyla served as priest in various Krakow parishes in the 1950s, he became professor of moral theology and social ethics at the major Krakow seminary. In 1958, Pope Pius XII appointed him as Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow.

In 1964, Wojtyla was nominated to be the Archbishop of Krakow by Pope Paul VI, who made him a cardinal three years later. He took part in the Vatican Council II and attended all of the Synod of Bishops assemblies.

On October 16, 1978, Wojtyla was elected pope and took the name John Paul II in honor of Pope John Paul I whose one month papacy immediately preceded his. His own papacy was nearly cut short in May 1981 when a Turkish gunman shot the pontiff in St. Peter’s Square.

In late-1983, the Pope visited a prison and met with Mehmet Ali Ağca, his would-be assassin. After the private meeting, the Pope said, “What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.”

During his papacy, John Paul II oversaw a chaotic post-Vatican II Church. He halted the progressive reforms and published the Catechism of the Catholic Church which did much to clarify the Church’s doctrine and bring new members to the faith, reversing the decline caused by Vatican II.

John Paul II was the most well-traveled pope in history, visiting almost 130 countries since 1978 and logging nearly 725,000 miles of travel. Papal events were often attended by hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions of people. Nearly 18 million pilgrims have attended his Wednesday general audiences since 1978.

During his travels, he made efforts at reconciliation with other major religions including the Eastern Orthodox faith and Judaism. In 1986, he became the first pope since St. Peter to enter a Jewish synagogue, and in 2000 he left a handwritten note at Jerusalem’s Western Wall that expressed hope for strengthened relations between Christians and Jews.

We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer and, asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant,” the note read.

John Paul II was staunch in his beliefs, and he was both highly praised and roundly criticized for his unbending opposition to contraception, abortion and homosexuality. He was universally admired for his strong belief in human dignity and advocacy for the poor. The Pope was a staunch critic of war and did not hesitate to oppose President Bush and the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

John Paul II served longer than all but two of his 264 predecessors, St. Peter and Pius IX.

The Pope’s death has initiated an official nine-day mourning period at the Vatican. His body is expected to lie in state in St. Peter’s Basilica beginning today. A special Mass is expected on Thursday before the Pope is buried. Most recent popes have been buried beneath the Basilica, though there is speculation that John Paul II wished to be buried in Poland.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the papal transition process has begun, in which the College of Cardinals will meet within 15 days and a new Pope will be elected. Spanish Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, who has served as the camerlengo since 1993, is in charge of funeral arrangements and is the most important official at the Vatican until the new pope is elected.

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