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Only one more Pope?

By Anvar Alikhan
April 18, 2005 13:52 IST
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According to a prophecy made in the 12th century, there would be only 112 popes left. Whoever is elected Pope in the next few days will be the 111th.

After that, according to the prophecy, there will be just one more pope. And then Rome -- and the Catholic church -- will be wiped out. In the words of the prediction, 'the city of seven hills shall be destroyed, and the dreadful Judge shall judge the people.'

The man who made this prediction was St Malachy, an Irish bishop and clairvoyant. While on a visit to Rome, St Malachy is said to have fallen into a trance and seen a vision of all the popes to come. Writing in the year 1139, he described each of them in a single, sometimes cryptic, but ultimately apt, Latin phrase. And so far he has been remarkably -- even eerily – accurate.

For example, he described Pope Paul VI, who held the position from 1963 to 1978, as Flos Florum, which means 'Flower of Flowers.' Paul VI's coat of arms, as it happened, featured three fleurs-de-lis, or iris blossoms.

His successor, John Paul I, who was Pope for one ill-fated month before he suddenly died, was described by St Malachy as De Medietate Lunae, or 'Of the half moon.' People were puzzled by the description at first, but after he died they realised that he had come to power at the time of the half moon and died by the next half moon.

The late John Paul II was described as De Labore Solis, or 'Of the eclipse of the sun.' It turns out that he was born on May 18, 1920 during a solar eclipse.

These prophecies were first published in the 16th century, and the Vatican tried, for perhaps obvious reasons, to suppress them, but failed.

The next Pope, whose name will be announced shortly, is described in the prophecies as Gloria Olivae, or 'The glory of the olive.' What exactly does this clue mean? We cannot tell as yet. Some believe that it means he will come from the Benedictine order, which is symbolised by the olive. Others argue that the olive signifies Israel. As in the case of many prophets and seers, St Malachy's clues often become clear to us only after the fact.

In the 112th and final prophecy St Malachy refers darkly to a Pope he calls Petrus Romanus, or Peter the Roman. 'In extreme persecution, the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will lead his sheep through many tribulations, at the end of which the city of seven hills shall be destroyed, and the dreadful Judge shall judge the people.'

As the college of cardinals works feverishly to elect the successor to Pope John Paul II over the next few days, they will have to wrestle with various criteria -- political, organisational, theological and moral. And to make things more complicated, they may also want to make sure that, in order to forestall any further doomsaying, whoever they choose has absolutely nothing to do with the words 'The glory of the olive.'

But with these things you can never really tell: the description often manifests itself only much later. Pope Benedict XV, for example, was referred to by St Malachy as Religio Depopulata, or 'Religion laid waste,' and at first nobody could understand the relevance of this clue. It was only after his reign unfolded, from 1914 onwards, that World War I and the Russian revolution made its meaning terribly, terribly clear.

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Anvar Alikhan