As a non-Christian, many might wonder why I care about the Pope’s election. It has far more to do with apocryphal prophesy than with religion.
I have always been fascinated by the various end-of-times prediections of the Book of Revelations, Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, etc. For papal prophesy, the gold standard is St. Malachy. He was a 12th century priest who served as Archbishop of Armagh (Ireland). He has been attributed as the author of the Papal Prophesies, which is a list of brief phrases said to predict the nature of the papcies until the end of the Church. There is significant skepticism about the origins of the Prophesies, as well as their accuracy in describing popes after 1600. But nonetheless, the recent ones have been very interesting. Here are what he said about the 20th-21st century Popes:
Leo XIII (1878-1903): Lumen in coelo (Light in the sky). His coat of arms included a star shining down. He was also Pope during the first observation of a supernove outside of the Milky Way Galaxy. Despite its distance, it was visible on earth with the naked eye (barely).
St.Pius X (1903-1914): Ignis ardens (Burning fire). Pius was actually canonized for his zealousness, or burning fire for the Faith, if you will.
Benedict XV (1914-1922): Religio depopulata (Religion destroyed). Benedict was Pope during the rise of Communism in Eastern Europe, which promoted aetheism.
Pius XI (1922-1939): Fides intrepida (Intrepid Faith). Pius resolutely continued the traditions of the Faith despite the rise of Mussolini’s fascism in Italy and specifically Rome.
Pius XII (1939-1958): Paltor angelicus (Angelic Shepherd). Although his role in the Holocaust is disputed, he is attributed to “shepherding” thousands, if not tens of thousands, to safety who would have otherwise ended up in concentration camps.
John XXIII (1958-1963): Paltor et Nauta (Sherherd and Sailor). Pope during the radical reforms of Vatican II, John could be said to have salied the Church successfully through very difficult waters, while keeping his flock intact.
Paul VI (1963-1978): Flos Florum (Flower of flowers). His coat of arms had only one distinctive device: 3 fleur-de-lys (Lillies)
John Paul I (1978): De medietate lunae (of a half-month). Timing seems a little off because John Paul was Pope for slightly over a month (33 days), but clearly still one of the shortest reigns.
John Paul II (1978-2005) De labore solis (Labor of the Sun). This phrase was also used in the 12th century to describe a solar eclipse. Solar ecplises occurred on the dates of John Paul’s birth and his funeral (but in different parts of the world).
Benedict XIV (2005-2013) Gloria oliuae (Glory of the Olives). Benedict took his name from St. Benedict whose order, the Benedictines used the olive branch as their symbol.
This brings us to the pope that St. Malachy predicts will follow next: Petrus Romanus (Peter the Roman). For this Pope, the prophesy has more to say: “Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End.”
This ominous statement is the only one of the Prophesies to go into this amount of detail. “Finis” or “The end” is actually part of the prophecy, suggesting this is the last Pope. Christians find comfort in this because to them it means Christ is returning. I’m afraid I don’t hold so optimistic a view. If I am wrong, I’ll gladly say a few Hail Marys for it.
There are a couple of interesting points about this final prophesy that may point to who will be elected. The part about pasturing the flock through tribulation could easily be said to have already started with the recent sex-abuse scandal. Cardinal Timothy Dolan has already been up to hips in ushering the church out of the scandal. Then there is the name itself: Petrus Romanus. If romanus is translated as Latin instead of Roman, perhaps it refers to a Latin American Pope. Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, the Archbishop of Sao Paulo, already has Peter in his name. Both Dolan and Scherer are listed by most sources as in the top half dozen likely to be elected, but perhaps not as likely as the Archbishop of Milan. Another contender is Peter Erdo of Hungary. Just mentioning him because his name is Peter.
According to oddsmakers, Dolan and Scherer are in the 2nd-choice category for Pope. If the top-tier choices cannot get the 2/3 vote necessary, they may look at the 2nd stringers, like they did in 1978 when they lected Johhn Paul II.