Orville Taylor, Contributor
In 2005, I was profoundly disapopeted when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a former Hitler Youth, was elected head of the Catholic Church, Pontiff, and head of state of the smallest country on earth, the Holy See, or Vatican City.
Never mind the fact that his denomination is the smallest traditional Christian congregation in Jamaica, the Pope is one of the most powerful persons in the world, not only because Catholicism comprises the largest single bloc of Christians globally, with 1.2 billion members, but he sets the tone and theme for Christianity globally.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, now in his first week in office, assumed the headship of the Church on Wednesday. It is history in the making, and for a moment I had been expecting that the smoke from the chimney in the Sistine Chapel would have been brown like the majority of Hispanics. After all, Latin America has the largest concentration of Catholics in the world. Nearly 50 per cent of the world's Catholics live in Latin America and the Caribbean. Although many of them live in self-denial, most Latin Americans have black blood.
Everyone knows that my preference would have been for a black Pope because, since St Gelasius, born in Rome of African parents and who ruled from 492 to 496, we have not had a Pope of traceable African descent. This is particularly bothersome because Catholicism is perhaps the denomination with the largest membership of African descent globally. Nigeria has around 20 million Catholics and Brazil, with almost 200 million citizens, is 75 per cent Catholic. Despite official documents, recent DNA research points to 85 per cent of Brazilians having Kunta Kinte's stain. Thus, it has approximately 150 million 'Blackolics'. Outside Africa, there are around 200 million, and within Africa are 130 million.
With the exception of John Paul II, who was Polish, and the immediate past Pope, Benedict XVI, who is German, all of the modern 'Holy Fathers' have been Italian. It is a strange kind of coup by the Romans, because somehow, after crucifying Christ and persecuting his followers for centuries, they appropriated the very religion they massacred hundreds of thousands over.
For the record, Ancient Rome, which incorporates modern-day Italy and the Vatican, was a pagan empire and did not adopt Christianity until Emperor Constantine was conveniently converted through a vision he received in 312 AD. The malevolent emperor was not a little pussycat, but more like Saul. He got, supposedly, a text message from Heaven which showed him a picture of the crucifix and told him, "In this sign conquer."
NOT PURE COINCIDENCE
Don't be fooled, the Vatican is not ready to let another darkie through the gate, even though it was an African, Pope Militiades, who blessed Constantine and made Rome adopt Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. It is not pure coincidence that the new Pope is Argentine. Guess what? He is Italian, Roman, like Constantine and the majority of post-Militiades Popes.
Argentina is one of the whitest countries in the world. Believe it or not, it has a population of just over 42 million, but 97 per cent of them are white. White countries such as France, Germany, England and USA have proportionally fewer white citizens.
More specifically, Argentinians are mostly of Italian and Spanish origin. Italy has 60 million Italians, the USA has 17.8 million. Some 24 million Argentines are not merely Hispanic, but Italian. Football fanatics, check the Argentinian popular ballers - Maradona, Batistuta, Caniggia and Messi.
In choosing a Pope, the main specification is that he must be a cardinal below the age of 80. One would imagine that there is some notion of seniority, where a cardinal with around 10 years in the position would be desirable, giving a mix of experience and youth. Thus, all things being equal, and adjusting for seniority, one would look for a cardinal born in the late 1930s to mid-1940s.
Doubtless, at 76, he is young enough; however, he is ranked 31 in terms of seniority. More important, he is ranked immediately below the Brazilian Claudio Hummes, two years younger than him but from a country with the largest Catholic population in the world. Indeed, No. 7, Nicolas de Jess Lopez Rodriguez, is from the Dominican Republic, another Latin American country where mixed-race Africans deny their blackness. Cardinal 15, Polycarp Pengo from Tanzania, would also make lots of demographic sense. For good measure, No. 41, Peter Turkson from Ghana might be even related to some of us.
ready for challenges
Nevertheless, Pope Francis seems to be a different kettle of fish and a man ready to tackle many of the challenges the Catholic Church is facing today. Despite him being an Italian who they might have slipped through the black door, he is the first Jesuit to be Pope. He is plain Francis because there was none so named before him.
Taking the name, perhaps, from St Francis of Assisi, who wrote the famous prayer, "Lord, grant me the serenity ... ," this is a man who, according to reports, tried very hard to be an ordinary man of the people like Jesus was. St Francis of Assisi, whom he is reportedly trying to emulate, was the son of a wealthy man who used to cut and sell cloth. Yet, in following the teachings of Jesus to be a fisher of men, he lived in rags among the beggars around St Peter's Basilica.
The Jesuits are a special set of priests, unlike monsignors and others; they take a vow of poverty, owning nothing except their thoughts. Only the Missionaries of the Poor, the sect founded by our Fr Richard Ho Lung, can compare to them in this aspect.
Bergoglio was an enigma. Instead of living in the rectory or the archbishop's palace; by self-election he dwelled in an apartment and even cooked his own meals. Not even the chauffeured limousine assigned to him was used, as he preferred to travel via public transportation. Even more amazing is that he did it on one lung, having lost the other to infection in his youth.
To his credit, he announced his novel approach by asking the 150,000 people packed into St Peter's Square to pray to God for him. In the past, other Popes, in their 'divinity', blessed the crowd.
Interestingly, a man of controversy, who will stand up and face the stiff challenges raised by the sex scandals, Francis will have to enforce the vows of celibacy among the clergy and, instead of bending over backwards to accommodate them, penalise the paedophiles and others.
In Vatican City, he will speak stridently and clearly, despite the fact that the Latin V is pronounced B in Spanish, his native language. Coming from a country where same-sex marriage became legal in 2010, a full year before the permissive New York, he will be reprising his seminal role of opponent.
Facing the Argentine legislature he declared, "Let's not be naďve, we're not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God."
Who knows? This Pope might bring a resurgence of Catholicism in a country like Jamaica.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.