Monday, February 25, 2013

Why The Next Pope Matters


Pope Benedict XVI surprised many Catholics when he announced that he would be stepping down later this month.   The 85-year-old former Cardinal Ratzinger said he no longer has the mental or physical strength to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

Since that time speculation has run wild in the western press with the names of American, Canadian and European Archbishops and Cardinals suggested as some of the possible successor to what Roman Catholic’s claim is an unbroken line of succession going back to the Apostle Peter.

Insiders and others have commented on the type of Pope they would like.  Many are hoping for someone more acceptable to the less conservative wing of the church, particularly someone that would fit in with the prevailing theme of going ‘younger and more appealing’ to the various, divergent and liberal views of those in Europe and in North America.   Women as priests, acceptance of homosexuality and the relaxation on birth control are often mentioned as ‘hoped for’ developments by the media in Europe and in the US.

However, the Church (neither the Roman Catholic or the rest of Christianity) is no longer European or North American.   After years of a European centered and often Italian dominated Papacy, the time is ripe for leadership to arise from the global South.

In the past fifty years the center of Christianity has moved south…way south.   In the 1950’s emerging Christianity in Africa and in Asia started to clearly differentiate themselves from a European and a North America style of Christianity.   The Catholic Church in Latin America is largely charismatic and Pentecostal just as the fastest growing non-Roman Catholic segments of Christianity are as well.  In Africa, the growth of the Roman Catholic Church has required the church to find better ways to involve non-ordained clergy including family groupings, house churches and women in leadership positions.

According to Philip Jenkins, Christian historian and author of “The Next Christendom” statements about what Catholics believe today refers only to what that "ever-shrinking remnant of Western Christians and Catholics believe.  Such assertions are outrageous today, and as time goes by they will become even further removed from reality.  Europe is demonstrably not the faith. The era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes."

Today the fastest growing Christian areas geographically are Africa and Latin America.  Asia likely has almost 400 million Christians and the Catholic Church, despite the scandals and criticisms of the West enjoys a solid share of the Christian population, often exceeding 50% in many of these emerging nations. 

Likely the Catholic Church will embrace a respected leader from one of these emerging nations as the new Pope.  In doing so it will likely embrace the new reality of how the church is always adapting to new cultures, new worship styles and finds a way to be relevant in every part of the globe.  It will also be better prepared to address the issues that confront the church including celibacy and orthodoxy.  As Jesus said, “From Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."







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