“If I Were Pope!”

Does this title shock you?  It is meant to.  Is it audacious?  The word is described as being recklessly daring.  I am being daring; but reckless?  Wait till you finish reading  this.  Our former President APJ Abdul Kalam advised young people to dream with their eyes open, so as to convert their dreams into reality.  That is true daring.  It is a calculated risk.  And nothing risked is nothing gained.
What Kalam said in a national context is exactly what the first Pope, St. Peter, said in his very first public address.  Explaining the Pentecostal experience Peter first dispelled the false notion that they might be drunk, saying it was still the “third hour of the day” (Acts 2:16).  He then went on to quote the Prophet Joel by saying, “I shall pour out my spirit on all humanity. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young people shall see visions, your old people dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). So it is sagacious, not audacious, to have dreams, even of becoming Pope!
I have a one-in-600-million chance of becoming Pope, because that is the approximate number of male Catholics in the world today.  Since I am married and nearing 60, the odds against my becoming Pope can be multiplied by another million.  So I have a 1-in-600-trillion chance of becoming Pope.  It does not deter me from having my vision of the Papacy.

MY NAME:  If I were to be the Pope I would take the name of Peter the Second, not because I envisage the end of the world, a la Malachy, but because Peter is my favourite biblical persona. I closely identify myself with the fumbling and bumbling fisherman.  At his very first encounter with Jesus, he actually asked him to leave him alone (cf Lk 5:8).  At the Transfiguration when Jesus was giving him the keys and renaming him Peter, he again misunderstood Jesus’ intentions (cf Lk 9:33).  He floundered in faith while walking on the water (cf Mat 14:30).  He couldn’t face a young girl’s questioning, and denied knowledge of Jesus (cf Mat 26:70).  At the Ascension he couldn’t commit himself to unequivocally stating that he loved Jesus (cf Jn 21:15-17).  There was obviously something more than human frailty that Jesus saw in him, to appoint him the first Pope (in today’s parlance.)

THE DREAM: There was a hue and cry when Peter II became the Pope.  The first indication of what was to come is that the stock markets in America, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and even India, crashed.  It is believed that these shadowy figures, that control   share prices, have a better world view than Heads of State, Finance Ministers or leaders of religion.  As Peter II unfolded his vision for the Catholic Church, the markets crashed further, and OPEC countries faced bankruptcy, because the price of crude oil had crashed to $10 per barrel.

THE ACTS OF PETER II: The first act of the new Pope was to auction all the treasures in the Vatican museum, amounting to several billion dollars.  With such a flood of artwork on the markets auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christies couldn’t handle the rush.  The price of MF Hussain’s paintings also crashed.  A scrap dealer in Bhayandar bought one for Rs. 10,000/-.
Peter II’s second act was to close all the Vatican embassies throughout the world.  He did not believe that the papacy needed to be an earthly power, having diplomatic immunity and status.  However, because of the past history of conflict with Roman emperors, he retained Vatican City as a neutral city state, similar to the UN headquarters in New York.  When a red sashed and red faced Cardinal had the audacity to challenge the Pope’s decisions Peter II told him about one of his predecessors who was escorting an atheist friend around the Vatican museum.  In a lighter vein the then Pope had remarked that like St. Peter he could not say “Silver and gold I have none”.  Smack came the atheist retort, “That is why you cannot also say – In the name of Jesus, get up and walk”.  The Pope was alluding to the incident referred to in the Acts of Apostles, of a lame person seeking alms from Peter at the temple (cf Acts 3: 1-6).  The Cardinal beat a hasty retreat.  After the initial crash, the markets began to pick up gradually.  Peter II strongly felt that power and pelf had clouded the vision of the Church, and made a clarion call for simplicity of life.  He set an example by walking down the streets of Rome, and visiting the poor in the ghettoes.  Rather than going to Castel Gandolfo as a summer resort, he decided to spend 6 months every year in a Benedictine monastery, including working in the fields and with the cattle.  It brought him close to nature and to mother earth.  He asked all his bishops and priests to live simple and prayerful lives, reminding them that “No man can serve two masters” (cf Lk 16:13).  He exhorted the hierarchy to get out of their entrenched and fortified positions to prepare for a new Pentecost, a fresh out pouring of the Spirit, as prayed for by his humble predecessor Pope John XXIII.  He convened the Third Vatican Council (Vat III).  The markets again became volatile.

VAT III:  In a fast changing world, where “Breaking News” was every minute, there was an urgent need for aggiornamento (updating). Vat II had concluded in 1965 (46 years ago), the New Code of Canon Law had been promulgated in 1983, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992.  It was time to take stock again.  He felt pained that the vision of Vat II had been watered down, especially in terms of the Church’s own self understanding, and its consequent attitudinal change vis-à-vis the world, science and other religions.  He did not believe in a Clash of Civilisations.  He believed that to be civilized one must be conciliatory in nature.  As a prelude to VAT III he directed that every Episcopal Conference organise a national synod to prepare for the third millennium of Christianity.  The exercise would involve all levels of the Church from the parish onwards; and all sections like youth, women, clergy, religious and laity.  He did not prepare a Lineanmenta (guideline) but he did express some of his concerns that needed redress:

•    Why the vision of Vat II was not implemented, especially in de-structuring the Church, and making it more participatory; including the collegiality of bishops and the fraternity of the laity?
•    The need for ecumenical unity with other churches, and a bigger interface with leaders of other religions.
•    An open dialogue with science, especially in the areas of genetics, human reproduction and the sanctity of life; as also a more pastoral and understanding approach to those in moral conflict situations.
•    The question of married priests and the ordination of women
•    The first Council of the Church was held in Jerusalem when St Peter had to justify his act of doing away with circumcision as a pre-requisite to being God’s chosen people, saying “God was giving them the identical gift he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ: and who was I to stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11: 17).  Perhaps the time had come to reconsider whether an external act like Baptism alone was the gateway to the Kingdom?
•    He even touched on seemingly innocuous phrases from the Our Father and Hail Mary, like “forgive us our trespasses” or  “the fruit of your womb”, suggesting that the language of our prayer should be commensurate with modern idiomatic usage.
•    He asked for study circles in all parishes to reflect on three important documents of Vat II: (1) Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium) (2) Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) and (3) Declaration of the Relationship of the Church to non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate).

POSTSCRIPT:  I know that I will never be the Pope and I have no desire to be so either.  Neither do I wish any disrespect to the Papacy.  Both my parents were papal awardees – my father with the Knighthood of St Gregory, and my mother with the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” medal.  When Pope John Paul II came to New Delhi in 1986, after receiving communion from his hands I knelt down and kissed his feet.  This does not mean that as a loyal member of the Catholic Church I should turn a blind eye to what I see happening, or not happening around me.
I pray for a new Pentecost in the Church.  I pray for the convening of Vat III.  I pray that the Church in India, having the advantage of a pluralistic, ancient, religious and also secular society, takes the lead in building up a groundswell of opinion for VAT III or better still JERUSALEM II.  I dare to dream.

# The writer is a former National President of the All India Catholic Union and former Director of the International Council of Catholic Men.