Facing the "Global South"

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Facing the "Global South"

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This week the world waits to see whom the next pope will be. As I write the 115 Cardinals who will elect the new pontiff have been sealed in the Sistine Chapel at Vatican City. When they emerge a new pope will be in place.

Much speculation has gone into this selection. Regardless of who the new pope is or where he is from, the issues facing he and his church will be the same. Many articles have listed the challenges before the church. Among them are a declining number of ordained priests, especially in the developing regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the regions where the greatest growth in the church is taking place.

Another problem is the growing number of voices demanding change in many of the basic traditions of the church. Ending the requirement of priestly celibacy, many say, would open the doors for more men in the priesthood. Ordaining women priests is another change many progressives would like to see. Pope John Paul II, and most of the Cardinals he appointed, opposed any change in these teachings. Yet there are many voices in North America and Europe who feel the church must loosen its tight grip on these and other matters.

The church teachings on abortion, birth control and sexuality are considered by many Catholics to be terribly out of step with a modern world. Many practicing Catholics routinely ignore church teaching on such personal matters, deciding to make their own choice. Vatican teaching on stem cell research, eugenics and euthanasia are also thought by many to be wrong and inflexible.

And we have not mentioned the church's handling of the sexual molestation cases among priests in North America. The prestige among many of the faithful fell when the facts of the many cases hit the light of day. The recent massive outpouring of grief and celebration at the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II stand in contrast to these accepted cracks in the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church There is a great deal of work ahead for the next leader of the church.

Writing in the April 18, 2005 Wall Street Journal, John-Peter Pham highlighted what might be the most significant challenge before the church in the coming decades. It is the fact of a shift in the center of power away from Europe toward what he calls the "global South". "Europeans and North Americans presently make up only a third of all Catholics. By 2025 -- that is, conceivably by the end of the next pontificate -- that proportion will slip even further to barely one-fourth. As the historian Philip Jenkins has observed, the 20th century was 'clearly the last in which whites dominated the Catholic Church: Europe simply is not The Church.'" Of the 115 voting Cardinals this week the breakdown is 58 European and 57 non-European. In the coming years the numbers are likely to tilt toward the non-European.

Pham makes the observation, "...that many have been slow to appreciate... that these numbers represent not just a demographic shift, but also one that might have seismic repercussions for an array of ecclesiastical and theological issues." He cites the split within the Anglican Communion over the issue of gay priests. Anglican bishops from Africa and Asia for their liberal stand have soundly chastised the North American Anglican Church. Pham goes on show that Catholic churches in Asia are not concerned with issues of sexuality in the same way. Their primary issues are globalization, economic justice and the environment. He concludes with an opinion why John Paul the II seemed "deaf" to the issues of the north. "In fact, if John Paul's Vatican has appeared in recent years to have been deaf to the demands of its stagnant and aging Western flocks, it was because the late pope was being attentive to dynamic younger flocks in the developing world. It might well be that this conclave is the last one where issues dear to the hearts of First World Catholics will figure prominently, and the first where a whole series of new concerns emanating from the global South will come to the fore."

It is interesting to note this reference to "the global South". Bible prophecy foretells a power from the South, a "king of the South" (Daniel 11:40) shall attack a power called "the king of the North", thus provoking a major incursion into the Middle East by a power coming out of Europe. The Catholic Church has been historically wedded to the powers of Europe through various alliances and compacts. Though this relationship has been weakened in modern times the Bible shows there is coming a time in the future when this church-state relationship will come together, possibly because of a threat to their existence. The result will be a world power system unlike seen before. We are watching historic events unfold before our eyes. You can understand what is happening before it takes place by reading our free booklet, "The Book of Revelation Unveiled ". You can read it off our web site or order a free copy delivered to your door.