When Pope John Paul II came to power in 1978, Leonid Brezhnev, Jimmy Carter, Jim Callaghan, Deng Xiaoping and Helmut Schmidt were the prominent world leaders on the global scene. Now all are long since retired or dead but the pontiff, though frail and weakened by Parkinson's Disease, is still travelling the globe. His fondest wish is to celebrate the year 2000 in Jerusalem, which has interesting implications in itself.
Certainly in comparison to some who have held the papal office in bygone centuries, this present pope is a paragon of virtue. Considering the fact of his 20-year reign at the summit of the one of the largest corporate bodies in existence, very little if any scandal has touched him personally. He has consistently preached and upheld Catholic moral standards. And he has urged people to seek the meaning of life while viewing scientific advances through the perspective of spiritual values.
The Power of Papal Influence
The pontiff's influence runs far beyond the borders of the Roman Catholic Church. He is highly regarded even by atheists and agnostics, not to mention those of other faiths. Politicians recognize that this pope has already influenced the fate of nations. Said Mikhail Gorbachev: "Everything that happened in Eastern Europe would have been impossible without the presence of the Pope." And non-Catholic British author Timothy Garton Ash frankly wrote: "I want to argue that John Paul II is simply the greatest world leader of our times."
Recently a brand new book has been published about the Roman Church. The title is, Absolute Truth: The Catholic Church in the World Today. Its author, Edward Stourton, describes the confident keynote: "The difficulties the Vatican faces in preserving doctrinal discipline cannot obscure the power of the Church's claim to hold an absolute truth revealed by God." Mr Stourton is also amazed by "the extraordinary resilience of the Roman Catholic Church."
As we move rapidly toward the year 2000 we cannot help but speculate as to what is in store for this largest of all the world's mainstream Christian bodies. After all, John Paul II is nearing 80 and the Vatican is already cautiously considering who the new pope might be. Wrote Ann Simpson in The Herald (Glasgow): "Cardinals are the Pope's closest advisers, and those under the age of 80 can enter the conclave to elect a successor. But since John Paul has named more than 88 per cent of the present college, the informed guess is that his successor will be a conservative in his own image" (October 16).
Of course, the present pontiff hopes he will live long enough to personally call a World Ecumenical Council for 2001. Some who think that might not happen are already "discreetly jostling for position." Richard Owen, reporting for The Times from Rome (October 13), speculated that Cardinal Camillo Ruini [an Italian], 67, may be emerging as the front-runner. He is said to have spent the summer learning English.
But some Vatican watchers believe the next pope will be either an African or Latin American, reflecting the growth of Catholicism in the Third World.
The All-important Biblical Perspective
We who are members of the United Church of God may respect the current pope for both preaching and adhering to his own Catholic standards of morality, while simultaneously recognizing that the unmitigated biblical values we publish and proclaim go far beyond the standards of a church that often puts tradition on the same par as the Bible. Also we cannot forget that the book of Revelation strongly indicates that a world religious leader will play a major role in fulfilling crisis-charged, end-time prophecies that will help bring this age of man to a close just prior to the Second Coming of Christ and the beginning of His millennial rule.
The Roman Catholic Church bears watching! Is its influence growing in the world? Who will be the next Pope and how will he choose to exercise papal power? Will he have the same moral fiber as the present pontiff?
Most all of the biblical prophets uttered their prophecies in the context of the current events of their times. They did not prophesy in a vacuum. We too are charged to watch world happenings as they unfold. Remember Luke 21:36! WNP
Additional Sources: The Daily Telegraph, September 26; The Sunday Times, October 18; The Independent, October 16.