Habemus Papam!

The above, to those uninitiated in matters Catholic, is Latin for “We have a Pope”. So, all in the world who were beginning to express exasperation at the pace of the election should be happy. It is said some Kenyans had started tweeting, suggesting they lend the Vatican their electoral body if it wanted to shine at being slow.
Pan Butamire
Pan Butamire

The above, to those uninitiated in matters Catholic, is Latin for “We have a Pope”. So, all in the world who were beginning to express exasperation at the pace of the election should be happy. It is said some Kenyans had started tweeting, suggesting they lend the Vatican their electoral body if it wanted to shine at being slow.

However, what today’s world doesn’t know is that, in the 13th century, it used to take up to three years to install a pope. When only in two days, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergolio was placed on the papal chair as Pope Francis I, none should be complaining.

For instance, it is said that when Pope Clement IV died in 1268, cardinals became so involved in a bitter political struggle that some refused to vote. Even when they were fed on bread and water only, the punishment did not break the stalemate.

It was not until the roof of the building they were locked in was removed that they elected a new pope. Even then, it was necessary to spread a rumour among them that, in case they need more persuasion, the four walls hemming them in were going to be set on fire.

But maybe they had reason to fear the likelihood of being picked for pontiff. To confirm that a pope is dead, the camerlengo (cardinal in charge of the Vatican) has to perform a medieval ritual. He picks a silver hammer and approaches the pope’s deathbed. Then he lifts it and brings it down on the head of the (assumed) dead pope three times, as he calls him by his Christian name.

Whether you have fainted or you are too dazed by the hammering to respond, your holiness’ soul is received by eager Heavenly arms. When such an end awaits you, wouldn’t you prefer political feuding?

And so we should welcome Pope Francis I and wish him luck. As cardinal last Wednesday evening, he found himself in a hard place – in fact, on a rock. The Vatican is a huge iceberg of corruption and rivalry that can consume any man, and there is a sitting victim to testify to that.

Word is that the new pontiff comes in the form of a very dignified man and we should give him all our support and prayers. He will sure need them.

These are uncertain times for the Catholic Church. After 600 years of no papal resignation, the 21st century has opened with Pope Benedict XVI throwing in the towel, pleading lack of the requisite physical and mental energy to execute a good job of work. And that work may be that of ridding the whole church of the mess it is embroiled in.

There are accusations of priestly child abuse to clear and there is a curia (church government) to clean. As the Sacred College of Cardinals have made history electing one among them from outside Europe and its environs for the first time, can they repeat it by coming out in force to wholeheartedly back him up?

There is a chance; it is said the Catholic Church has seen worse times. Word has it that in earlier times, the Vatican used to be known more for orgies than for prayers. One time, there was a pontiff whose nightly wild parties would have turned Silvio Berlusconi green with envy.

And there was another one who was married with six children. Before his death, he designated one of his sons to succeed him and, indeed, after a hiatus of only a short reign of an elderly pope, the son ascended to the papal throne and ruled over the Catholic world.

The papacy has seen dirt, death, intrigue and corruption galore and there is no doubt it’s undergoing a process of self-cleansing, slow as it may be. It will use some patience and, lucky for it, the faithful have it in abundance. Rwandans, more than anyone else.

For, when you come to think of it, it’s a wonder that the Catholic Church still enjoys a following in Rwanda. When you remember that many in the clergy were among the leading Interahamwe and they also led in mobilising their faithful to mass-slaughter their compatriots, you cannot understand how Rwandans still have a place in their heart for the Catholic faith – or any faith, when it comes to that.

And the knife that is twisted in their wound is that, on top of the Vatican refusing to acknowledge this fact, it still keeps some génocidaires under its wings, affording them protection. But, as said earlier, these are hard times for the Catholic Church, and they have ever been worse – if worse there can be – so it is in everyone’s interest to exercise patience.

For the first time in its history, the Catholic Church has a pope from Argentina, South America. Before this, for the first time, a pope apologised to victims of priestly abuse and the church saw fit to make reparations. Soon, more continents may have access to the papacy. And more victims may get that apology – and its accompanying reparations. The process of self-cleansing seems to be in motion.

Habemus Novum Papam!

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