Talking about Popes

“I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict told the public last night.  The 265th Pope is no more the Pontiff.  He was the first Pontiff in 598 years to hand in his resignation out of free will.  He resigned at the ripe age of 85 because he felt he didn’t have the “strength of mind and body to steer the boat of St Peter”, anymore, which I have total respect for.  He is absolutely right.

Also known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a native of Bavaria, he was chosen by his fellow cardinals to be Pope in April 2005.  He followed in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II and was also one of his (Pope John Paul II) closest aides.

So now, just before Easter the Catholic Church is searching for another pope, the Sovereign  of the Vatican City State and the leader of the Catholic Church worldwide.  The Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter the Apostle.

I am not a Catholic myself, but I do live in a country where about 85%  of the population say they are Roman Catholic, although in all honesty I don’t get the idea the people are very devoted.   News regarding the Pope, the Vatican City and Roman Catholic in general does get a fair amount of media coverage though.

However, many moons ago I met a Pope.  It was 1988 and I was  working as a journalist in South Africa for an Afrikaans newspaper.  The then Pope John Paul II was on his way to visit many African states including Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique.  Not South Africa.  It so happened that the aeroplane he was flying with had a faulty engine, so he had to make an emergency landing.  And guess where was the best and safest place for the Pope to land?  South Africa.
Pope in SA

It wasn’t an official visit (he didn’t want to come to SA anyways because apartheid hadn’t been abolished in those days) so he didn’t kiss the ground when he landed on South African ground.  But it was a story of international proportions and the then minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Pik Botha, was in his element.  What a scoop.   He was the perfect host!



On  that day I had to rush to the airport to get pictures and a story and spoke with many of the bystanders, mostly Catholic, who couldn’t believe their, shall we call it, ‘luck’?  Thousands of people heard on the news that the Pope had to make an emergency landing at Johannesburg and they rushed to the airport in the hope to catch a glimpse of the Pope.  A nun told me she shook hands with the Pope, another lady wanted him to bless her prayer beads for peace in the country and many others were just waiting to catch a glimpse of him.

Pope John Paul II, who also visited Ireland (1979), left South Africa later that day and travelled overland to Maseru.  He was Pontiff until his death in 2005.

And while Pope Emeritus Benedict will live his years in quiet contemplation, praying and writing in a monastery within the Vatican walls, the eyes of the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide will be on the Vatican City to see when the white smoke will tell a new Pontiff has been chosen.


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