After the white-smoke “fumatta” signaled Argentina’s Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio now heads the Catholic Church, the attention turns to significant, if subtle, signs surrounding the naming of the new Pope.
As soon as Msgr. Bergoglio was chosen, in the privacy of the Vatican Cardinal Giovanni Battista’s first question to him was, “What name would you like to be known by?” to which he replied “I shall be called Francis I”.
Moments later, when presented to the world from the Basilica overlooking St. Peter’s Square Pope Francis announced to the world, “You know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world to get him. But here we are.”
An interesting and significant phrase filled with foreboding in these troubling times, many perceive of apocalyptic worldwide turmoil. Particularly to those lending credence to the prophesies of Irish Saint Malachy, a 12th century Archbishop of Armagh who had a vision when visiting Rome of 112 future popes that the Church would supposedly have from his days onwards.
Malachy wrote down short emblematic and symbolic descriptions for each which have been fulfilled with uncanny precision to this very day.
According to that vision, the 111th pope was Benedict XVI, whom he described as “The Glory of the Olive” which makes him the next-to-last pope.
Malachy could have very well been way off the mark by whole centuries when you consider that some popes like Pius IX in the 19th century reigned for a full 34 years, whilst others like last century’s John Paul I only reigned for 33 short days. And yet, as we enter 2013 – just months after 2012 with its symbolic End-of-Time aura – we suddenly have a new (the last?) pope being chosen.
Even if Francis I is not the last pope, he certainly makes an interesting list of Catholic firsts: the first non-European pope in almost 1500 years; the first Jesuit; the first to choose Francis as his name; the first to succeed an abdicating pope in six centuries.
Why all the expectation? Because for the 112th pope on Malachy’s List he wrote these ominous words: “In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End.”
If Malachy’s List continues to hold in its uncanny precision to the very end, then Pope Francis I is the last pope of the Roman Catholic Church.
On the very same day that Benedict XVI shocked the world with his unprecedented and unexpected resignation, a bolt of lightning struck St. Peter Cathedral’s Dome, an image that went around the world. “The hand of God” many thought, only this time not alluding to an Argentine football player but rather a sign of the times to come for the Vatican: the coming of an Argentinian pope.
The monsignors are said to take this and other prophecies – notably the Vision of Fatima – quite seriously, which might help to explain why other possible papal candidates who either carried the name Peter or came from Rome were discretely left aside so as not to tempt Destiny.
Either way, Francis I is as he himself unwittingly said, an “end of the world” pope coming as he does from far off Argentina.
Opposition Cardinal in Argentina
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio championed the plight of the poor in a very hands-on manner, which set him at loggerheads with the now ten-year-old, increasingly left-wing Nestor and Cristina Kirchner Regime.
His criticism of their government got stronger as the years went by, specifically targeting the Kirchner government’s corruption, political mismanagement and hypocrisy.
Since Msgr. Bergoglio would persistently lash out at the Kirchners during the solemnities of the Te Deum marking the anniversary of Argentina’s 25th May 1810 Revolution in Buenos Aires Cathedral which is traditionally attended by the President, his family and cabinet. Starting in 2005 the Kirchners decided to celebrate this anniversary elsewhere in the country to avoid Msgr. Bergoglio… In fact, President Cristina Kirchner has not met with him in almost three years now.
Though a moderate in many aspects – especially in his drive for Ecumenical inter-faith relations (he was just invited to visit Israel), and in his embracing of Second Vatican Council reforms – he has, however, systematically opposed same-sex marriage which became legal in Argentina in 2011, and strongly opposes abortion laws that are being promoted by both the left and the “liberal” right.
Msgr. Bergoglio is an ardent devotee of the Virgin Mary whose protection he invoked in his very first message urbi et orbi. The first place he went to pray as pope was the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin at Santa Maria Maggiore.
A House Cleaner in the Vatican?
As a sign of the times to come, Francis I is also the first pope in history to choose a name that honors one of Christendom’s most important saints: Saint Francis of Assisi, a 13th century reformer who preached by setting an example for all.
Although from a wealthy family, he chose to live in poverty and austerity telling his followers that a good Christian’s duty is to “Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words”; meaning thereby that the best preachers are those setting the best examples, something the Church seems to have increasingly forgotten in modern times.
Saint Francis founded the Franciscan Order and its female counterpart founded by his spiritual sister St. Claire, both of which made vows of poverty. His preaching got him into trouble with local secular and Church authorities even landing him in jail.
As today, the Church of St. Francis’s time was very much in need of a major internal clean-up. Francis of Assisi reproached the pope in front of all his cardinals for their excessive attachment to luxury, and their banality and mundane ways. Later, Pope Innocent III would finally approve his predication and approved the founding of the Franciscan Order.
So, will Pope Francis I do as his spiritual predecessor and wage a veritable war for greater austerity inside the Church, requiring its highest authorities to set the example, both inside and outside the Church?
Will he really do something about prelates accused of improper sexual conduct, cutting them off fully and completely from the Church, and not just “transferring” them away to some quiet place hoping their immoralities and perversion will just go away, as if by magic?
Will Francis I also fully and thoroughly clean up the Vatican Bank (Institute of Religious Works) forcing it to cancel shady financial deals, reject usury-based financial income, and putting its monetary wealth to work for the poor?
Again, will he identify and weed out the truly guilty of such crimes and perversion, severing all Church ties with them?
In short, will Francis I do something none of his predecessors seems to have had the will to do over the past fifty years, which is not to sweep all this mess under the carpet, but rather cleaning the place up for real?
That all remains to be seen.
Hundreds of millions of honest Catholics the world over, including in his native Argentina, certainly hope that he will.
Others, much closer to him now, who reside inside the Vatican, however, tremble at the thought that he might actually do just that.
Clearly a grave danger for Pope Francis, when one remembers that another pope – John Paul I – had pledged when chosen that he would clean up the Vatican Bank after its Banco Ambrosiano/Freemasonry scandal. Alas! John Paul I appears as Pope No. 109 in Malachy’s List, carrying the phrase “De Medietate Lunae” (of the Half of the Moon”): when elected in late August 1978, there was a half-moon in the sky and he died at the next half-moon…
But we’re not really sure whether Msgr. Bergoglio chose his papal name only because of the Saint from Assisi. It may have been to honor other Francis’s like St. Francis Javier, or even 16th century St. Francis de Borja both of whom were, like himself, Jesuits.
The Jesuits – The Society of Jesus – are a 16th Century order founded by Spaniard St. Ignace of Loyola, as a militia to defend the Church against the forces of reformation and other dangers to the faith.
The Jesuit’s strong-willed militancy got them expelled several times from the American colonies and also from Europe. Even the Church itself suppressed them. They have an autonomous leadership under its Superior General whom many refer to as the “Black Pope” alluding to the Order’s great leverage inside then Church. Jesuits are known for being shrewd and sharp intellectuals with a keen sense for political and social strategy, and a very strong will to promote and drive their goals and objectives.
Maybe Msgr. Bergoglio is honoring all of these Francis’s. But the one that has caught the Catholic world’s imagination is clearly St Francis of Assisi, in which case much will be expected of Pope Francis. No pope – until now – has ever chosen that name which many perceive as emblematic of a key enemy of certain castes of mischief-makers inside the Vatican.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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