I don’t think I was the only non-Catholic to shed a tear this morning when I heard the news that John Paul II had died. I definitely didn’t agree with many of the stands that the Catholic church had taken over the last few years – though I did appreciate its stand against the death penalty in the U.S. and other countries. But, John Paul II was a very humane, likeable figure. He was like a distant grandfather for many people, so it was sad when he finally succumbed to his illnesses on Saturday.
Now, more than ever, I wish I could be in Rome. I thirst for being in the middle of history. If I had the chance to go back in time, I would choose to hang out in Berlin when they chipped away at the Wall; I would go back to the early 90s and register every URL domain name I know possible; and I would book a flight for last week so I could be in the thick of the papal transition.
After a few days, of course, talk will begin about who will be the next Pope. My bet is that the next leader of the Catholic church will be from Italy. But, it could be interesting if the cardinals choose a man from the Developing World, particularly India.
But India’s a Hindu country, right? Well, yes, it is. There are, however, many Catholics – in Bandra (the tony Bombay suburb), in Goa (the former Portuguese enclave), and in many areas of the country where lower caste has forced people to believe in a faith that believes in them.
What’s fascinating is that this largely Hindu country has a link to Catholic history. In Chennai, there’s Santhome Cathedral Basilica, the site where St. Thomas (doubting Thomas) is believed to have preached the gospel before his martyrdom. His burial site is in a museum behind the cathedral, and it is one of the best kempt museums I’ve seen in India. Furthermore, as the tourist brochure says, Santhome is the only church in the world – other than St. Peter’s – to be built on the burial site of an original Apostle of Christ. If that isn’t a plus for the Indian Catholic church, I don’t know what is.
India can also lay claim to St. Francis Xavier who went to Goa in 1542 and “devoted almost three years to the work of preaching to the people of Western India.” Apparently, every ten years of so, the preserved body of St. Francis Xavier lays in state at his namesake church and pilgrims from around South India come to pray and pay homage. Apparently, that anniversary just passed and I missed it, so I’ll have to wait another decade to fulfill the morbid urge of seeing the long-dead saint.
And, speaking of saints, there’s the newly beatified Mother Theresa, the most recognized Catholic figure other than John Paul II. Mother Theresa, of course, spent her years caring for the poor and outcast in Calcutta.
According to the CIA Fact Book, 2.3% of Indians are Christian. So, at more than a billion people, there are approximately 25 million Catholics here – or, roughly, twice the population of Belgium. So, it’s not totally out of the question that an Indian could be named the next Pope. As sick as it may seem, Archbishop Ivan Dias of Bombay has less than 51-to-1 odds for becoming the next Pope. I wouldn’t put money on it. But, then again, he’s got much better odds than the Blue Devils winning the NCAA tournament.
I suppose that given the time and place, I’m being greedy. But I’d really be over the moon if Bombay’s Bishop got the papacy. Then, at least, I’d get a chance to be shoulder-to-shoulder with a little history. Though, I don’t think the believers in Hindutva would be too psyched.