In choosing a new pope, special emphasis is placed on utter secrecy and, even more profoundly, the process is firmly anchored on election by divine intervention. Those who are eligible to vote – i.e., the 112 cardinals – undergo a public sacred vow of obedience to their conscience in accordance with the wishes of God Almighty. Under no circumstances will they divulge what influenced their choice or how the winner emerged.
On CNN, American Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, gave an hour-long interview before the voting commenced but did not give much away. Even after the election, the ebullient cardinal was still playing smart with the interviewer. It was a case of read my lips. He was followed by Cardinal John Onaiyekan from Nigeria who repeatedly demurred, “I am sorry I cannot divulge what transpired in the conclave (the Cistern Chapel) where the votes were counted.” Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana took a similar tack. He stoutly declared, “It is a secret which no cardinal will ever divulge.”
Regardless, the details of the voting pattern have filtered through. Clearly, even within the Vatican, walls have ears! In the first round it was the Italian, Cardinal Angelo Scola, who was leading. Then the mood changed and a desperate search for a non-Italian (and non-European) candidate commenced. From the middle of the pack, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina emerged. It was the American votes which swung behind the Argentine candidate largely on account of his humility and diffidence. Besides, he had been the runner-up when Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005. The black smoke from the chimney of the Vatican changed colour into greyish white and the deed was done. God had spoken.
However, there was one person to whom the choice of the new pope was no surprise. It was none other than the former pope, Benedict XVI. Before he took off for the magnificent Castle Gandolfo, his retirement home only fifteen kilometers from the Vatican, he had been accosted by the chartered accountants who were protesting in St Peter’s Square against domination and oppression by the four largest accountancy firms. They were anxious to know whether the Holy Father had a succession plan. The Holy Father, with choosing a new pope is not the same as appointing an accountant.” The pontiff gave each chartered accountant a rosary and urged them to pray for the church as well as non-believers and oppressors.
Even more intriguing was that on the eve of the elections, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was introduced by Pope Benedict XVI to the “Seventy Senior Citizens” from Nigeria. Nothing was said but Cardinal Bergoglio was accompanied by his “running mate”, Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana. In tow was none other than Cardinal John Onaiyekan from Nigeria. It conveyed a powerful message. All those who were merrily peddling the story that Pope Benedict XVI was frail and in solitude were entirely blown off course. The Holy Father was on top of his game.
Unknown to the generality of the public, both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis I are widely read. They relish African literature. When they learnt that Nigerian author extraordinaire, Albert Chinua Achebe, had died, they were moved into sending a joint letter of condolence to the “Seventy Senior Citizens” from Nigeria who were in St Peter’s Square to pray fervently for our beloved Nigeria which is afflicted with the double “V” – “vulnerable” and “volatile”. They had obviously read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart but the irony of the trenchant defiance was not lost on them: “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peacefully with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
The Vatican radio was the first to broadcast the tribute by J.P. Clark and Wole Soyinka: “For us, the loss of Chinua Achebe is, above all else, intensely personal. We have lost a brother, a colleague, a trailblazer and a doughty fighter. Of the ‘pioneer quartet’ of contemporary Nigerian literature, two voices have been silenced – one, of the poet Christopher Okigbo, and now the novelist Chinua Achebe. It is perhaps difficult for outsiders of that intimate circle to appreciate this sense of depletion, but we take consolation in the young generation of writers to whom the baton has been passed, those who have already creatively ensured that there is no break in the continuum of the literary vocation.
“We need to stress this at a critical time of Nigerian history, where the forces of darkness appear to overshadow the illumination of existence that literature represents. These are forces that arrogantly pride themselves implacable and brutal enemies of what Chinua and his pen represented, not merely for the African continent, but for humanity. Indeed, we cannot help wondering if the recent insensate massacre of Chinua’s people in Kano, only a few days ago, hastened the fatal undermining of that resilient will that had sustained him for so many years after his crippling accident.
“No matter the reality, after the initial shock, and a sense of abandonment, we confidently assert that Chinua lives. His works provide their enduring testimony to the domination of the human spirit over the forces of repression, bigotry, and retrogression.”
Vatican radio devoted most of Sunday, March 23, 2013 to Chinua Achebe and “The Problem with Nigeria”.
Randle is a former president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region. He is currently the chairman, JK Randle Professional Services.
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