In 1978, sensing the failure of communism in Eastern Europe, they chose a man from Poland as pope, the first non-Italian in five centuries. Pope John Paul II contributed to the fall of communism, along with Lech Walesa, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
Four decades earlier, cardinals voted in Eugenio Pacelli as Pope Pius XII. Pacelli had strong German connections in a year when the likelihood of a European war was growing. Germany seemed the most likely victor so the church was simply taking advantage of an opportunity.
Another opportunity presents itself now.
Arguably, the biggest issue confronting most countries is the growing gap between rich and poor. The economic Rule of Inequality is a reliable way of predicting revolution or domestic strife. The bigger the gap the more likely a revolution!
According to the Economist magazine some time ago, China is very concerned about this gap and the prospect of instability, so this has become a major focus of concern. There has been a clampdown on corrupt officials in an effort to resolve the problem.
According to the same magazine, the only industrialized country with a greater gap is the United States. What saves the US right now is food stamps, unemployment benefits and Medicaid – take these three away and there would be serious rioting across the land. The gap may be great, but the issue was not even mentioned in the last election.
The situation is a cause for concern in many countries right now – what will it be like if there is a double dip, if the global economy goes down again like it did in 2008? It’s quite possible this could happen. If it does, and life becomes harder for what are sometimes referred to as the “99%”, the “1%” can expect trouble. (These terms were made popular by the Occupy Wall Street movement.)
So, the Vatican’s choice of Pope Francis I is astute, showing an awareness of the greatest need in the world at this time – the need for a new economic system that replaces the evils of our present failed system with something more equitable.