Touch of India in Pope succession

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  • Published 1.04.05

New Delhi, April 1: Three Indians will be heading to Vatican City any time now to elect a successor as news arrived that Pope John Paul II is ?ready to die?.

A Vatican spokesman said the Pope had received the ?Holy Viaticum? communion, reserved for those near death.

Italian media gave contradictory reports, first saying his heart and brain activity had stopped and then reporting this was not true.

When a Pope dies, his chamberlain ? the person who manages his residence ? will confirm the death and prepare the funeral and the conclave to elect a successor.

That is the time a call will come for Ivan Dias, Telesphore Toppo and Varkey Vithayalthil to join the conclave of cardinals who will elect the next Pope, the religious head of 1.1 billion people.

In the trio, there will be one whose name is also being spoken about as a candidate. Dias, the archbishop of Mumbai, is among 13 cardinals believed to be in the running.

Twenty-six years ago, the Vatican created history by anointing John Paul II, a Pole, the first non-Italian to be elected to the top post in over 400 years.

There is now speculation if history will be made again by naming the first Indian and, possibly more important, the first non-White.

Whether or not Dias is chosen, there is a likelihood that a non-White could actually become the Pope because several of the cardinals being tipped for the post are from Latin America and Africa. Dias?s office had earlier dismissed as ?rubbish? the speculation that he was a candidate.

An electorate called the ?Sacred College of Cardinals? will elect the new Pope through a secret ballot. Cardinals aged 80 and above are not eligible to vote and the effective strength of the electoral college now is 120.

After the retirement of some 12 cardinals last year, the electoral college has more non-Europeans than Europeans, counting some 17 Italians out, making the possibility of a non-White becoming a Pope that much stronger.

India has five cardinals, but two of them are above the age of 80 and cannot vote.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of India spokesman, Fr Babu Joseph, said: ?The Indian Church will be happy and proud if the next Pope comes from the country. But these (about Dias?s prospects) are speculative reports. The papal election does not happen just like that.?

The election is an elaborate process, requiring a majority of at least two-thirds plus one. When the conclave elects a Pope, he is asked if he accepts and which name he wishes to take. Once this is done, he dons papal vestments ? tailors keep several sizes ready ? and sits on a throne in the Sistine Chapel to receive the other cardinals who file up to pay homage and pledge obedience.

Dias has a few factors going for him. For instance, he has been a Vatican diplomat for 33 years in various parts of the world before coming to Mumbai in 1997 as the archbishop. He knows 17 languages, mostly European, and even speaks Korean. Above all, like Pope John Paul, he is orthodox, and is relatively young at 69 by Vatican standards.

Sources, however, said irrespective of the arithmetic of the electoral college, the outcome is determined by the Vatican?s influence. A church source explained that huge funds are required to run the Vatican and only a White Pope can raise the money as he is able to tap with ease large private corporations and heads of European countries.

The Catholic Bishops Conference deputy director, Donald D?Souza, said the election is transparent and stringent.