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Benedict XVI discards power

MARION O'CALLAGHAN Monday, February 18 2013

“The path of power is not the road of God.” Benedict XVI

Some four or five years ago, Father Hans Kolvenbach resigned as General of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits. The event was largely ignored by the world’s Press. Called the “Black Pope” because he wore black, the General of the Jesuits was with the “White Pope” the only position left in the Catholic Church which lasted until death.

I had brushed off the rumour that Father Kolvenbach would resign. I was certain that the “White Pope”, Benedict XVI, would refuse the resignation whatever Kolvenbach or the Jesuits wished. John Paul II had refused the resignation of the former General of the Jesuits, Father Aruppe SJ, even though he was left speechless and paralysed after a massive stroke. I was wrong. I was convinced then that Benedict XVI could one day do the same. Over the last two years we have witnessed his failing health. There was the fall in the bathroom. He fell again in Mexico last March. Little enough for those under sixty; full of foreboding for those over eighty. There was the increasing use of the Pope Mobile. He was “slowing down”.

John-Paul II had died as monarchs do — in public. Benedict XVI had declared early in his Papacy that the Pope was not a monarch. John Paul II witnessed to the usefulness of each of us — from “womb” to “tomb”. It was a witness needed in a world where the aged, the chronically ill, the insane, the vagrants, the poor, are considered social burdens. I recall the handsome, youthful Pope John Paul II on his first visit to Paris. He was the “sportif” Pope, Paris-Match assured us, providing a picture — secretly taken — of the Pope in bath-trunks preparing to dive into a swimming pool. He was irritatingly sure of himself. Decades later we accompanied him on those last two horrific nights. He was a Parkinson’s wreck of an elderly man. There was the stubborn courage of faith, unto the call “to the Father’s House”, as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger the Pope’s faithful servant, called it. And Benedict XVI?

J’ouvert

It was J’ouvert morning: the opening day of Carnival. It is the period when here in Trinbago, as in Benedict’s Bavaria (Germany) or in Rome, Power is lampooned, the Powerful are reversed in a popular Magnificat of revelry. For two days the streets belong to the Clowns, the Moko Jumbies, the Dames Lorraines, to Kings and Queens in paper crowns easily discarded. We laugh at prime ministers, presidents, the pompous, as we drag down the mighty from thrones and seats.

“Have you heard” someone said over the telephone, “Benedict has resigned.” Yes, Benedict had played his own J’ouvert morning. We had been fascinated before his array of mitres and chasubles. Some mauvais langue journalist had remarked that his shoes were from Prada, the fashionable Italian store. Well, he had thrown it all away as you do Carnival paper crowns and Carnival two days’ Power.

To Eat A Food

The news that Benedict had resigned sent me to that standby Catholic prayer: the Rosary. It was after the second decade that the humour of it struck me. Here we were in that grab-all of what we ourselves called “To eat a food”, signifying that there was nothing any longer that was sacred. Anything and anyone could be bought.

Anything and anyone could be reduced to money. Morality, loyalty, truth — were all subject to money and to power in Church as in State. We fought like blue crabs in a barrel for a title — even if it was false. We peppered our speeches with the names of our contacts and our threats. We judged everyone by what they possessed. We made it clear that we were so powerful that we could do what we liked. It has been Sparrow’s “Ah big an’ strong, I ain’t ‘fraid a soul in town.”

Well, here was the Pope, one of the most powerful men in the world, throwing it away. His gold fisherman’s ring, that seal of office, will be destroyed. And of his own free will, as he declared on J’ouvert morning, he will turn his back on Power. I remembered Luis Ramallo at the time of young Jesuit, “Have you noticed,” he had said, “that Jesus is crucified by all the Powers of this world? By the power of money, political power, ecclesiastical power?” For Benedict XVI Our Lord’s love is supremely shown when on the Cross he is stripped of everything, even of the certainty of the existence of God.

Father Danty-Lafrance sent us a postcard from Germany. It was of an old medieval crucifix with Jesus laughing on the cross, his foot on the skull of death. It was this, the witness of Josef Ratzinger, the earnest young theologian of Vatican II 50 years ago, Benedict XVI. “Who would believe our Report?” asked Isiah.

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