View From Rome
Here is an extraordinary statistic. Little more than a century ago there were nine million Christians in Africa. Today the figure stands at roughly half a billion, and 140 million of them are Catholics. This explosion of Christianity has, according to the Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan, been a “miracle of grace”, or, put in more prosaic sociological terms, an incredible feat of evangelisation.
In 1998 police raided the headquarters of the Buenos Aires archdiocese as part of an investigation into a financial scandal. The local media had been tipped off, and a group of journalists was assembled outside the curial offices. Inside, the recently appointed archbishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was worried. He made a phone call to a young priest called Guillermo Marco, who he knew had experience of handling the press.
Earlier in the day there had been a cool breeze, but by mid-afternoon Rome was basking in spring sunshine, allowing a brilliant white light to stream through Bernini’s window of the Holy Spirit in St Peter’s Basilica as the choir of Merton College, Oxford, began singing the introit to evensong.
It was one of the most moving moments I’ve experienced in reporting on this papacy. Pope Francis stepped off the papal plane and into the war zone of the Central African Republic, a country he’d been strongly advised not to visit but which he insisted on going to anyway. “Give me a parachute if you can’t get me there,” he told his pilot.
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