The African Popes
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Lil. Joe: Thanks for this article. In has been the most informative one that I have found on the lives of the Black Pope.

Just yesterday morning on NPR I heard an interview about the Papacy. In Europe, the Catholic congregations are diminishing. In Ireland, whose people we known for being Catholic, for example, priests have left and the Church has had to import priests. Africans priests, Nigerians specifically have taken up the charge to serve in these critical areas. Otherwise, those areas would be without a priest.

I recall, on the interview, on Nigerian priest said that Catholicism in Europe is “quiet”, whereas mass is “celebrated” in African. Cultural differences caused for adjustment on the part of both priest and parish.

The interesting message in your article is that the former Popes lived in a time when the concept of “race” was not what it has now become. Where those African Popes of old were accepted, today, according to the radio broadcast, some churches have closed because the priests were not taken from the local people, but “imported.”

Since the new Papacy is a decision that priests are praying about, politics is only part of the decision. Is the world ready for a Black Pope? I don’t know. The Catholic world is largely Black and Hispanic, they may be more than ready. Soon we shall know if the rest of the Catholic world is ready. I stated earlier what area that I thought the Pope may be chosen, but it is only a guess. We’ll see. Adaoma

—-Original Message—–
Subject: Fwd: Three Black Popes in History

Pope John Paul II’s death has prompted intense discussion about his
eventual successor as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Many names are being tossed around as the next pope, including Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria.

If Arinze becomes the next pope, it might surprise some Catholics as well as non-Catholics that he would be the fourth black-African pope to lead the Catholic faithful.

The three black popes were:

Victor I (A.D. 186-197),

Miltiades (A.D. 311-314) and

St. Gelasius (A.D. 492-496)

All three were saints, having left their stamp on Christianity and the Catholic Church.

An article in the April 16, 2001 edition of Newsweek titled “The Changing Face of the Church” wondered if Cardinal Arinze could be the first black pope. These kinds of inaccuracies are unnerving to Rev. Barbara Reynolds. Reynolds, a minister and former columnist for USA Today,teaches biblical studies at the Calvary Bible Institute in Washington, D.C. She said a lot of the influence of Africans in religious history is shrouded in secrecy. “I teach the black presence in the bible, and it’s almost like a secret code that hasn’t been broken.”
Victor I, the 15th pope, is the reason Easter Day is celebrated
universally on Sunday, said Reynolds. A native of Africa, Victor I
served during the reign of Emperor Septimus Severus, also a black
African, and one of several African emperors that led the Roman Empire.

“It’s important to recognize that while there were three black popes in the early days from Africa, it was during a time when we didn’t have racial prejudice – there was no concept of race in the modern sense,” said biblical scholar Cain Hope Felder, of Howard University School of Divinity. Felder, who holds degrees from Columbia University, Oxford University, Union Theological Seminary, and Howard University, said that historic “black popes” and the fact that many people are startled at the prospect of Arinze becoming the next pope are evidence of how modern racial prejudice is marginalized the influence of blacks in world history.

“This was at a time when race didn’t matter,” Felder said emphatically. “But now the prospect of selecting an African pope is seen as so dramatic and historic and even frightening to some – it just shows how unfortunate and deep the race factor has been in dividing people and distorting the gospel message,” said Felder.

Miltiades, the 32nd pope, is remembered as the pope who led the church to final victory over the Roman Empire. Though Miltiades ruled the church for only three years, his reign witnessed one of history’s turning points – the coming of Roman Emperor Constantine and his conversion to Christianity in A.D. 313. Miltiades was granted approval from Constantine that all Christians would be free to worship without persecution.

Glaseius I, the 49th pope, was born in Rome of African parents, taking office in A.D. 492. “Intelligent and energetic, Gelasius I knew what steps he should take to establish a secure future for the church,” wrote Edward Scobie in the book African Presence in Early Europe. Scobie, who died in 1996, was professor emeritus at the City University of New York and a leading expert and authority on the presence of Africans in early Western Europe. Gelasius I,” Scobie wrote, “saved Rome from famineand was emphatic on the duty of bishops to devote a quarter of their revenue to charity, stressing that ‘Nothing is more becoming to the priestly office then the protection of the poor and the weak.’ It is little wonder that he died empty-handed as a result of his lavish charity.He used to call his temporal goods: ‘The patrimony of the poor.'”

Reynolds said this religious history isn’t just for black people.

“It’s for white people to know the truth also. The Bible says, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’ It’s not supposed to be one set of lies for white people and one set of truth for black people.”

Felder agreed, but added the church must embrace diversity if it’s going to survive and bring the truth to the masses. “We have allowed race to matter too much. And if the church is going to have a future, it’s going to have to come up with a mandate for diversity and seeing beyond color,”said Felder.

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