I have just returned from being in Mexico City the last eight days. I will be reflecting on this experience over the next week, but I need a day or two of downtime as I am a little overwhelmed with the intensity and exhaustion of the experience. Whether it was working with Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity orphanage, or working with the poor in the rural areas, I have had to process a lot. This was coupled with lectures on liberation and transformational theology, economics, capitalism, politics, etc., etc. So I am processing a lot.

But I wanted to post this today. Ever since I lived in Guatemala for three months in 2001 I have had a growing respect for the Catholic church, its people, and especially the Pope. These feelings are especially reaffirmed everytime I come back from a trip to Mexico or Latin America.

This last trip was even more impactful upon me than some of my previous experiences, and I know it really affected my students in some very deep ways. Many of them, who previously were only able to think in stricly Protestant and Evangelical terms, were exposed to the Catholic Church in a way where they have been forever changed.

I ask that you would be in prayer for the Catholic Church who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. I ask that you would be in prayer for the election of the new Pope who will not only have big shoes to fill, but will also be a very important person in shaping the future of the world we live in.

When I read I Corinthians 12 I can not help but think of this passage in terms of the global church. I believe that as Americans we are so often very egocentric, especially in our churches. We tend to think of many members, but one body, in terms of only our local congregation, our small group, or a national demonination. But I believe that Paul is speaking in terms of the entire Church…globally. It is important that we realize that as Protestants we are only one part of the Chrisitan body, and that we should take interest in, and be in prayer for the other members or our Christian body, especially the Catholic Church as it is in the midst of a very difficult time.

I think it would be amazing to see the election of a new Pope from Mexico, Latin America or Africa especially in light of what is happening in those countries. This would be an even more amazing move given the geography, the statistics, and future of the Christian Church as written about in Philip Jenkins book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.

This is a very important time for the Catholic Church as it reflects not only on the death of the Pope, but as it remembers the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980.

As I read Mark Roberts Epilogue on the Roman Catholic Church (in full text below) I was very moved by his thoughts. Please read his post below, and please be in prayer. The world, and the Church has lost a great man.

Epilogue: Prayer for the Roman Catholic Church
Part 16 of the series: “The Protestant Mary: Reflections on the TIME Cover Story”
Posted at 11:45 p.m. on Friday, April 1, 2005

I hadn’t expected to continue this series today, but I also hadn’t expected that Pope John Paul II would be on his deathbed today. It would seem odd if I were to jump into some new topic given the theme of my recent posts (Protestant-Catholic unity) and what’s happening right now in the Vatican.

All around the world tonight people are praying for the Pope. Among Roman Catholics this reflects their deep love for this particular Pontiff, whose energy, faithfulness, and worldwide travel (well over 100 countries) have made him extraordinarily popular. Those of us who are not Catholic can surely offer prayers of thanks for this man and his worthy accomplishments, among which I would number: his brilliant writings on many topics, his fervent opposition to communism and secularism, his persistent defense of Christian sexual morality, his efforts to bring reconciliation between Catholics and Jews, his powerful example of forgiveness (of the man who shot him in an attempt to kill him), and his regular proclamation of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the world today leading Catholic cardinals are heading to the Vatican in anticipation of the Pope’s imminent death. They will be present for an official period of mourning and numerous masses that accompany such a traumatic event within the Catholic Church. Though it’s easy for outsiders to see all of this as official church business, I expect that the cardinals will experience deep personal sadness as well. Even though this Pope’s centralization of power has distressed some church officials, they still feel a personal love for John Paul II. Of course the majority of these men were appointed by this Pope, who appointed more cardinals than any other Pope in history (well over 200). In this way he has shaped both the present and the future of the Roman Catholic Church, including the character of his successor.

It might seem odd to begin now to pray for the process by which the next Pope will chosen, but I think now would be a good time to start doing so. I’ll bet, in fact, that this has been central to the prayers of John Paul II in recent days, since he has had a major hand in shaping the process by which his successor will be chosen, not to mention the constituency of the electors.

The Pope, as you may know, is elected by an elite group of Cardinals, who meet in a Conclave about two weeks after the death of the former Pope. After being sworn to secrecy, they begin an election procedure in the Sistine Chapel (after it has been carefully swept for electronic bugging devices!). Through a series of votes, they finally elect a new Pope, usually by a 2/3’s majority, though John Paul II has instituted a new rule whereby a deadlocked Conclave could eventually elect a Pope by a simple majority. (I wonder what this rule change tells us about John Paul’s perception of the next papal election, if anything.) During the election, which can last for many days, the world knows very little. Smoke signals (literally) from the Vatican indicate only that a vote has been unsuccessful (black smoke) or successful (white smoke). (For a more detailed discussion of the procedure for electing a Pope, see this Encarta article or this piece from catholic-pages.com.)

I am beginning now to pray for God to be with the cardinals who will soon make what may turn out to be one of the most important decisions in the first part of the 21st century. No matter what you think of the Catholic Church or the Pope, you must acknowledge that his position is one of the most influential in the world. As I pray for the cardinals, I’m asking:

The interior of the Sistine Chapel, with Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment on the front wall behind the altar. It seems fitting that the election of a Pope should take place in a room filled with such incredible art that depicts the great events in biblical history. Voting under the watchful eye of Christ the Judge would certainly help one to be humble and discerning in one’s vote!

First, that God comfort them in their grief over the loss of their leader, pastor, and brother;

Second, that God prepare them spiritually for the crucial task of electing a new Pope;

Third, that God guide their deliberations and their voting so that the next Pope will be, like King David, a man after God’s own heart, and therefore a force for God’s kingdom in the world;

Fourth, that this next Pope will help to unify all Christians in Christ and in our core confession of faith even through our theological and institutional differences will remain.

As you may know, part of what is intriguing about the election of the next Pope is the possibility that this person might come from the Southern Hemisphere, either Latin America (where 40% of the world’s Catholics live) or Africa (which has a large and growing Catholic population). Personally, I think it would be amazing and wonderful to see new leadership emerge from one of these continents. But geography, however intriguing, is not the main thing. The main thing, I believe, is godly, Christ-centered, Spirit-led, and biblically informed leadership. I pray that the cardinals will choose this sort of person to lead the Catholic Church into this new century.