A Tale of Two Popes (but no Government)
By Amanda Minervini
In recent months the Catholic Church and Italy have been the focus of considerable news coverage.
On February 11, 2013 Pope Benedict XVI announced his decision to resign. He had been elected Pope in 2005 and not many Popes in the history of the Vatican have decided to leave, certainly none in the last six centuries. A period of uncertainties, but also of hopes, started among Catholics, whose attention was mesmerized once again by the little city-state within the Italian capital.
Cardinals started congregating for the election of a new Pope, which takes place in the marvelous Sistine Chapel. If you happened to be a tourist around the time of the conclave, then you would not have been able to visit the Chapel, but you could have waited in St. Peter square for the response: a smoke signal—black: there is no Pope; white: “habemus Papam” (we have a Pope).
After a surprisingly brief conclave, on March 13th, the cardinals elected their colleague from Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He is a Jesuit born in Argentina from an Italian family and he decided to call himself “Francis.” In the long history of the Church, Cardinal Bergoglio was the first Pope to ever pick the name of Francis, in honor of Francis of Assisi. He was also the first Jesuit to become Pope, and the first from Latin America. He chose the name Francis thinking of a Church dedicated to peace and to the care of the poor. This is why Pope Francis seems to have rekindled some faith in the Catholic Church, despite the many scandals that have plagued it in recent years.
However, there is a side of Bergoglio’s personal history that would need clarification if he really wants to be the heir of St. Francis, the man of peace and of the poor—not the Francis loved by Italian Fascists in the name of his endurance of pain, his perfect obedience, or his trips to the Orient (that the Fascists tried to replicate, talking of “a New Crusade,” when they started their colonial project in Ethiopia and Somalia). In fact, soon after Bergoglio turned into Pope Francis, newspaper articles from around the world started asking questions about his relationship with the Argentinian fascist regime.
After the resignation, Pope Benedict XVI became “Pope Emeritus,” and a quite sensational picture portrayed the meeting of the two Popes, who called each other “brothers.” Meanwhile, the “brothers of Italy” (“fratelli d’Italia”), as the national anthem calls them, waited for months for the formation of a new Government after the elections held on February 25th. They can rejoice about their two Popes, but many wish to have a Cabinet and a functioning State. There is no clear majority, though, and the alliances are so frail, they can fall apart any second. Right now, the Parliament is holding meetings for an important decision: the election of the new President of the Republic (who is elected by the Chambers, not directly by the people, and who stays in office for seven years). Yet, rather than agreeing on possible candidates, so far they have only managed to upset each other and a good chunk of the electorate. Maybe irreparably. We will see.