With the imminent election of a new pope, we are sure to hear a lot of talk from liberal media personalities that the Catholic Church should elect “the first African pope.”
Well, good news! We already did.
St. Victor I, Pope and Martyr was born in what is now Libya and was elected pope in the year 189 AD. Later, Pope Saint Miltiades was elected pope in 311 and Pope Saint Gelasius was elected in 492. Some of the better news sources make a point to note that we have had African popes before, but this distinction is just as often dropped.
The same thing has happened with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Even as recently as a few weeks ago CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a story which described her as “the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice,” except that Justice Benjamin Cardozo was of Portuguese heritage and was appointed to the court the better part of a century ago. It’s always more sensational to describe someone as the first ever instead of just the first in living memory, or the first in a long time–especially when it comes to liberal or racial politics, and even the first-rate operations easily fall into this trap.
The truth is, the Catholic Church has been around for almost 2,000 years and in that time we have seen pretty much everything. Popes have come from different continents and nations and have had to lead the Church through difficult times before. Today is no different. For moderns who are constantly looking for the novel and the unprecedented, look elsewhere. The Church is merely an instrument of God’s eternal and unchanging will. Even though the cardinals vote, it’s not a very democratic process as there is no politicking allowed. The papacy is not a popularity contest!
Furthermore, in speculating about the next pontiff, we would do well to remember the old saying that “he who enters the conclave as a pope leaves it as a cardinal.” Even though the Holy Spirit always seems to surprise us, it is because of our own failings, not because God has changed His mind. If the Papal Conclave in its wisdom decides to elect a pope from Africa or Asia, then great! If they elect a pope from Europe or the Americas, well that’s great too. All that matters is that the pope is a true servant of Christ and a faithful shepherd of His Church.
Joshua Bowman (@prolixpatriot) joined in full communion with the Catholic Church in 2010 after many years in the spiritual wilderness. He recently moved from his beloved native Virginia to Columbus, Ohio with his growing family and writes on religion, politics, history, and geographical curiosities in these pages and on his personal blog, The Prolix Patriot.