The resignation of Pope Benedict means a new conclave and a new Pope. And for the first time in centuries the new Pontiff may be non-European. In the running are churchmen from the United States, South America, Africa and Asia.
What would a non-European Pope be like? The video below is of Cardinal Luis "Chito" Tagle giving a talk in a Manila church. Cardinal Tagle, at 55, is one of possible candidates to replace Benedict. The video provides some insight into the sort of man who chooses the career of the cloth in a Third World Country; it gives a glimpse into the attitudes and intellectual capabilities one might find there.
But the list of candidates is now extensive and international. Doubtless the other candidates are of similarly interesting personality. But their concerns will mirror their local experience. For example attitudes toward Islam are probably colored by the individual experiences of the clerics in their home countries.
Peter Turkson (Ghana, 64) is the top African candidate. Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is spokesman for the Church's social conscience and backs world financial reform. He showed a video criticising Muslims at a recent Vatican synod, raising doubts about how he sees Islam.
Contrast the African to the Italian.
Angelo Scola (Italy, 71) is archbishop of Milan, a springboard to the papacy, and is many Italians' bet to win. An expert on bioethics, he also knows Islam as head of a foundation to promote Muslim-Christian understanding. His dense oratory could put off cardinals seeking a charismatic communicator.
And then there are the Latin Americans. And the North Americans.
What might work against Tagle is that his background is not representative of the big ticket currents in the Church: not the Latin American liberation and social justice debates nor the African experience with militant Islam and certainly not the European, Canadian and North American responses to secularism, marxism and the Big State.
What would Turkson or Tagle make of a Sunday at a church of atheists? I think Tagle for one, would understand it on an intellectual level and on an ironical level as well. But he might not grasp it as intuitively as a Westerner.
For each of us is cloistered by our experience and memory. We are formed, far more strongly than we suspect, by the deepest messages of childhood experience and culture. And the challenge for an institution with the span of the modern Catholic Church is to find some ground of unity in a membership far more diverse than it has ever been. Christ has but one message, but it takes a beating in translation.
At all events Benedict's resignation marks a watershed, a reminder that institutional Christianity is no longer European in any meaningful sense. For better or worse, it is now a global faith.
It is often forgotten that Christianity's roots are to the east of Europe. But its success in the aftermath of the Roman empire gave it an historical context -- branded it in modern parlance, with the European stamp -- and entailed organized religion in a relationship with princes. That led to entanglements in politics, to wars of religion and the correspondence between certain faiths and the national Establishment.
In one sense Christianity lost its globalism before it regained it. The involvement of Christian doctrine with European politics had lasting effects, especially on the left. They hated it because they coveted the political role it occupied. One Buddhist who attempted to carry on the tradition of monkhood in the West confessed that in his new home "the people around you grew up in an atheist society. They believed that religion was poison." Maybe because it was. Or more likely because the Religion of Political correctness was burying its rival the better to ascend to the right hand of the elite. The shadow of Established religion was lengthened by 19th and 20th century Marxism and perhaps was its darkest, by penumbra only, during the Holocaust of the Nazi era.
But the identification of Christianity with Europe is over now. And perhaps Benedict will be remembered a herald of that sea-change. That is not to say there will be no more Christians in Europe. But perhaps one can say that Europe is no longer 'Christendom' even in the residual sense. One long-term implication of the loss of correspondence is that Europeans and North Americans can now come to Christianity on its own terms, just as they would to Buddhism or -- Islam.
One immediate effect of the broken linkage is that it will no longer be possible to depict Christianity as a "white man's" or "colonial" religion. The only people who will continue to parrot that line will be those on the Left who after all live mostly in the past. But more importantly it will allow Christianity to sharpen the distinctions between itself and the only indigenous world-religion of Europe: Marxism and its derivatives.
For Christianity is fundamentally at philosophical opposition to the zeitgeist of the PC West. Thus, newly freed, the way will lie open to a debate over such things as the nature of truth, the sacredness of human life, the possibility of transcendence. Such questions can be openly discussed again. And even those who are not and will never be 'Christian' may still benefit in that they will forced to look anew at the roots of their own PC civilization. They can consider whether they want to create a Church of Atheism because they really believe in Atheism in a positive religious sense or simply because they want to throw one more mud pie at a Christianity they despise.
I've always wanted to know whether artists who liked showcasing crucifixes in urine did so because they liked urine or because they hated crucifixes.
Those searching for portents may conclude that in at least the metaphorical sense, Christ has returned in a limited edition to history. The gospel is free again to speak; unshackled from the legacy of the Borgias, Henry VIII or European antisemitism. "I am the Bread of Life ... Love your neighbor as yourself ... Be Not Afraid". These words can be spoken again, as they were on the first time.