Monday, July 22, 2013

Soundbites about the Pope

With this current highly popular Pope Francis, it may be time to share some soundbites about the Papacy.  Again, I do not expect anyone to memorise all these but most people would find it really interesting.  It is normally useful to have them on hand when the children ask questions or if you are preparing a special session on the subject.  So, here goes.

Who is the Pope
The head of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ (note not the Pope!!).  There are 1.2 billion Catholics throughout the world and Jesus needs help to take care of all 1.2 billion.  So, Jesus has the Pope to help him with the job.

The current Pope is Pope Francis.  He was formerly the Argentine Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. 

The Pope's name  
As with the norm now, the Pope took on a new name when he became Pope.  The tradition of the Pope picking a new name started with a Pope whose name was initially Mercury, the name of a Roman god.  A Pope Mercury in those days would sound as odd as a Pope Buddha today and so he changed his name.  Since then, many Popes have chosen names of someone they respected, like a saint or a previous pope.  Often, the name indicates the direction of the papacy he envisages.

Pope Francis took on the name Francis in imitation of St Francis, a champion of the poor.  This choice has set the theme to his papacy with his emphasis on social justice.

The Pope's titles
When we meet the Pope, we call him 'Holy Father'.  The common way to address him formally is His Holiness.  He has many many other titles and  I will run through a few of them here.

Bishop of Rome, Archbishop of Roman Province, Primate of Italy
He is the Bishop of Rome. This means that he is a bishop like the other bishops with a job of taking care of all the Catholics in his diocese.  In his case, the Pope is responsible for all the Catholics in Rome.  He has of course bishops and priests to help him. The bishop assisting him who takes on most of his responsibility as the bishop of Rome is called the Vicar of Rome.

In addition to being the Bishop of Rome, the Pope is also the Archbishop of the Roman Province and the Primate of Italy.  The Roman Province includes six other dioceses in the suburbs of Rome, which now exist only in name and is fully under the Roman diocese.  A Primate is the leading bishop in a particular country, often the bishop of the first city on that country to have a bishop.

Vicar of Christ, Supreme Pontiff, Successor to the Prince of the Apostles
The Pope is also the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the Supreme Pontiff and Successor to the Prince of the Apostles. The word Vicar means representative and so, the Pope is the representative of Jesus Christ on earth. 

In the Catholic Church only a priest (which is what the word Pontiff means) can perform the sacrifice at mass and so, the highest sacrifice that the Catholic church can offer is the Papal High Mass by the Pope, the Supreme Pontiff.

The Prince of the Apostles was Peter, the first Pope and so, the Pope is the successor to St Peter.

Sovereign of the Vatican City
The Pope is also the sovereign of the Vatican City. This means that he is head of the country called the Vatican City. That makes him the equivalent of president or a king or a prime minister in other countries.  More of that later.

Servant of the Servants of God
The last title is the most interesting.  He is the Servant of the Servants of God.  A long time ago, Pope Gregory was upset at the Patriarch of Constantinople for taking on a grand title, calling himself the Ecumenical Patriarch which means Patriarch of the whole church.  Pope Gregory then took on the title of the Servant of the Servants of God is an example of humility to the Patriarch.

How the Pope became the leader of the Church
In the early days of the Church, the 12 Apostles (the original 11 plus Matthias) went to different countries to evangelise the Gospel.  They were very much acting on their own independently.  Still, because the memory of Jesus' teachings was strong in them, what each apostle taught was the same as the others.  The 12 Apostles were the first bishops.

Later, as the Apostles died off one by one, the bishops they consecrated continued the teachings of Jesus.  But by then, there were many other people who had different ideas about what Jesus taught.  The Church needed someone to be the arbiter of what was truly the teachings of Jesus.

Naturally, they turned to the most senior bishop around, the bishop of Rome and successor to St Peter, the Pope.  The Roman Church also had a reputation of being very conservative and distrustful of new ideas (somewhat like today).  This conservatism was instrumental in preserving the original faith from non-Christian ideas.

By the time of Pope St Clement, the third bishop of Rome, some Christians in Corinth appealed to him to settle some disputes in their church.  We know this because we still have letters that Pope St Clement wrote to the Corinthians, just like St Paul did.  These letters were very much treasured and almost made it into New Testament.  (They were probably dropped because St Clement wasn't a direct disciple of Jesus.)

Later, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Pope naturally became the head of the Church, being the bishop of the capital city and closest to the Emperor.  More importantly in the view of the rest of the Church, Rome was the city of Saints Peter & Paul and the Pope is the successor of the Prince of the Apostles.  When the Empire fell and there was no longer any single central government in Western Europe during the Dark Ages, the Pope provided sorely needed leadership.

In fact, he became so powerful that he was the one who crowned kings and emperors.  With his own extensive country called the Papal States, one pope even led an army.  Many wielded temporal power and was involved in European international politics until the Reformation.

Today, the Pope has long given up on the exercise of temporal power.  His involvement in international politics is limited to furthering the values of the Gospels and occasionally mediating in wars & disputes.  For the last five centuries or so, popes have focused on providing spiritual guidance and evangelising Gospel values.

What the Pope wears
There are two famous items reserved only to the Pope that no other bishop will wear. The first is the Papal Tiara, a three-level crown that is no longer worn since Pope John Paul 1.  The Tiara, called the Triregnum, still appears on the Papal Coat of Arms though.  So, when you see something with a triple tiara logo, you know it is to do with the Pope.

The other famous item is a ring.  All bishops wear a ring but only the Pope has the Ring of the Fisherman.  The fisherman refers to St Peter, the first pope. The ring have a depiction of a fisherman casting his net out to sea.  All previous popes had rings made of gold but Pope Francis has a ring made of silver.  In fact, Pope Francis' ring is not a new ring and was previously owned by another bishop in Rome.

In the past, rings were used to seal documents, just like signatures today.  As such, when a Pope dies, one of the first thing they do is to break the ring and the new Pope gets a new one.  Pope Francis therefore broke with tradition.  When we meet the Pope, we show our respect by kissing his ring.

Generally the Pope wears white all over whereas other bishops wear purple.  He also carries a papal staff called a Papal Ferula, which is a tall staff, topped by a cross. All other bishops carry a crozier (a shepherd's staff with a crook at the top) instead.


The first Pope
The first pope was St Peter.  He was the only pope made pope by Jesus Christ. The  Bible tells us that Jesus made him the leader of the Apostles and changed his name from Simon to Peter, saying that on this rock he will build his church.  He was referring to Peter whose name means rock. He also gave Peter the keys to the kingdoms of heaven and hell.  This is why the sign of the two keys is the sign of the Pope.


Peter went to Rome to preach the Gospel because as the head of the church, he went to the capital city of the Empire.  He was martyred and when he was crucified, he told the soldiers to crucify him upside down because he was not worthy to be crucified upright like his Lord Jesus.  So he was crucified upside down and to this day an upside down cross is known as the Cross of St Peter.

After he died, the soldiers cut off his head and he was buried headless.  Christians built a church over the place where he was buried.  Many many centuries later, in the 1950s, some workmen digging under the high altar of St Peter's Basilica in Rome found the skeleton of a man with no head.  Could this be the bones of St Peter?  It could be but we will never know for sure.

Pope Francis is the 265th successor to St Peter and we know the name of each and every one of them.  This is important because we Catholics believe that the faith of Jesus Christ, as taught by Apostles has been handed down in an unbroken line.  Therefore, the faith we hold is the same faith of Jesus Christ.

The Vatican City
The Pope is the head of an independent country called the Vatican City. It is the smallest country in the world, only 44 hectares in size. That is the size of about 60 football fields. Six Vatican Cities can fit into one square mile, not very big.

The Vatican City is in Rome.  It includes St Peter's Basilica (a basilica is an important church with the four Papal Basilica being the most important), the huge church where all the big Catholic ceremonies take place and St Peter's Square outside as well get a few other buildings in Rome. 


There is a line in white in St Peter's Square to demarcate the boundary between the Vatican City and Italy.  It was painted during the Second World War by the Germans to tell a priest in the Vatican, who helped escaped POWs that if he crossed that line, he will be killed.

Vatican as a sovereign nation  
Having an independent country of his own helps the Pope to make independent decisions for the Catholic Church without being influenced by anyone else.  He will not be subject to laws or have any obligations to another country.  As an independent country, the Vatican has diplomatic recognition of most of the countries in the world.  It also has its own coins and stamps as well as its own Internet domain (.va).


The flag of the Vatican City is half in yellow, with the other half in white, with the Papal Coat of Arms.  Yellow is therefore the Papal colour.
There is even an army, called the Swiss Guards.  There are 110 guards drawn from Swiss Catholics who have done military service.  They are not toy soldiers, but trained infantrymen.

The Pope's helpers
The Pope has many people to help him.  There are over 100 Cardinals, most of whom work as bishops. Many others are heads of departments in the Vatican which help the Pope to administer the church & its finances worldwide, deal with other countries, religions & international bodies, and minister to the needs of Catholics in the universal church.


In addition, there are over 5000 bishops and archbishops throughout the world.  Again, many of them work in Rome as part of the staff of the Vatican, assisted by priests.  While many of these bishops & priests do work in the liturgy, administering Church law, faith education, etc, like other priests, many others do work we do not normally associate with priests.  There are bishops & priests who work as diplomats (Vatican diplomats are often considered the best trained in the world), lecturers in universities, journalists (there is a Vatican newspaper, TV and radio station), astronomers (there is a Vatican Observatory), etc.


In future posts, I will explain the hierarchy of the Church as well on the election of a pope.

No comments:

Post a Comment