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Who will walk in the shoes of the fisherman?

KOBE (Agencies): While western media has devoted constant attention to the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the upcoming conclave that will elect another man to walk in the shoes of the fisherman, this has not been true of Asian media across the board.

“In Japan, where not many people are Catholic, the coverage has been rather muted and, in fact, been totally overshadowed by the news of North Korea’s nuclear test, which happened on the day following the pope’s resignation,” Yoshio Oyanagi, from Kobe University and consultant to the Pontifical Council for Culture, told UCA News.

Nevertheless, Oyanagi notes that discussions on who the next pope may be did appear in some newspapers in the Land of the Rising Sun, together with explanations of the workings of a conclave.

The professor from Kobe University notes that Pope Benedict is an accomplished theologian who has bequeathed a fine catalogue of his deep learning. Nevertheless, he points out that he has also been criticised for putting too much weight on tradition.

“Looking back at history, we find several instances in which popes, who especially focussed on tradition, have been succeeded by popes with zeal for reform,” Oyanagi points out.

“Pope Pius XII was followed by Pope John XXIII and Pope Pius IX by Pope Leo XIII. In each case the new pope stayed on his predecessor’s course to a certain extent, but also blazed new trails of reform,” he explains.

However, he points out that one ray of hope that Pope Benedict did bring with him shone on China, as Pope John Paul II had been seen as a key player in bringing down the Iron Curtain in Europe, leaving Beijing wary of him.

Pope Benedict made his mark when he penned a letter to the Catholic people of China in 2007, which laid out a path toward solving the problems facing the Church there.

“Although it criticised the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, it was the first official document that publicly confirmed the Vatican’s recognition of the bishops that had been installed by the Chinese government,” Oyanagi points out.

However, he regrets that since then, there has not been much progress and Beijing has stepped up its oppression of the Church by ordaining bishops without papal permission and suspending Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin in Shanghai, who was ordained legitimately.

He says that this will leave the next pope with one huge challenge in Asia of roughly the same magnitude as continuing dialogue with Islam.

He noted that many leaders of Islamic nations did attend the funeral of Pope John Paul, in all probability because he issued an apology for historical abuse, such as the Crusades, as well as playing a role in preventing war in Iran and showing concern for Palestine.

On the other hand, Pope Benedict clashed with some Islamic leaders over a speech he gave in Germany, but to a large degree redeemed the situation through his visitation of mosques and meetings with high profile Muslim leaders.

He also had to watch as the Arab Spring gave birth to a rejuvenated Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt, which threatens the very existence of the fragile Church on the River Nile.

Oyanagi said that he has always harboured a vision of the papacy as an expression of cultural diversity and a deep regard for regional character.

He describes him as the personification of Christianity, which he thinks of as, “Coexistence and symbiosis built on the interplay of many races, nations and cultures.”

He said that some charge that the downside of the reign of Pope John Paul was a diminished respect for cultural diversity and a step backwards toward centralised power in the Church, which Pope Benedict failed to counteract.

However, Oyanagi notes that one thing Pope Benedict did do was show great tolerance towards separated Christians, citing the creation of the Anglican Ordinariate, but he expressed the hope that a new pope may show the same concern and care for the Latin Rite Churches, especially that in his native Japan.

He recalls that when he was a university student, the winds of Vatican II began blowing across the Church, ushering in what he refers to as the post-Constantine era, which had dominated Church life since the signing of the Milan Edict in 313AD.

“Christianity soon became the official religion of the empire and grew into the core of European identity,” he notes.

“Vatican II came as a warning that there was no room left for complacency in the Constantinian image of Europe as a set of Christian nations. When Pope Benedict created the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation in 2010, it was supremely timely—not to say overdue,” Oyanagi comments, reflecting that exactly 1,700 years on from the signing of the landmark Milan Edict, a new pope is faced with presiding over another much needed paradigm shift in the Church.

He concludes by wondering in what way the wind of the breath of the Holy Spirit will blow in choosing the man destined to walk in the shoes of the fisherman.

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