In the evenings, we would regularly take our children for a walk around the neighborhood.   As fuel was severely rationed, there was little danger from traffic – though the occasional goat could get too close!

One of the homes we frequently passed was the residence of the papal nuncio – the “Embassy of the Holy See”.

The papal nuncio at the time was described in the national newspaper as “the doyen of the diplomatic corps”.  In other words, the senior ambassador.   It was his job to organize the diplomats of the various nations represented in Ghana, whenever the Ghana government had something special going on and wanted to invite ambassadors to be in attendance.

Arguably, this made the papal nuncio very influential.

It struck me at the time that the Vatican had the world’s best diplomatic corps – far better than the United States.

In 1979 when the Shah of Iran was overthrown, we were in Ghana.  It was a tumultuous year for both countries.   The US Ambassador to Ghana was informing the State Department in Washington DC that the pro-US military government of Ghana was stable and that the people were loyal to it.   Many of us were better informed – we knew the people were greatly suffering contending with serious food shortages and an inflation rate of over 600%.   Non-diplomats were expecting trouble!

We were not surprised to learn that the US Ambassador to Iran was informing Washington that the pro-American Shah of Iran was stable and popular.    Early in 1979 the Shah was overthrown and replaced by the Islamic theocracy that still rules the country.   Some say this event was the start of World War III, which is still going on – the never-ending conflict between the West and Islamic militancy.   The then Ambassador’s ignorance cost the US dearly.

In Ghana, the government was overthrown on June 4th and a radical, revolutionary government took over, backed by Libya’s madman, Colonel Gaddafi.  Other Gaddafi sponsored coups followed in other west African countries.   Once again, a serious failure of US intelligence.

The doyen of the diplomatic corps was always better informed.



Pope bus

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.

"Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened." — Sir Winston Churchill