April 2005

By Perry Diaz

St. Malachy

St. Malachy

After 92 days in conclave, the cardinals were almost certain that the next round of voting would produce a pope. After all, Cardinal Vittorio Giovanni Antonini, the leading papal candidate was just three votes short of the two-third-majority requirement (one of the last Pope’s legacy was to restore the 2/3 requirement to elect a pope). The cardinals retired early that day to give everybody a chance to contemplate about the following day’s crucial vote.

That night, Cardinal Antonini, 79 years of age, and not of the best of health meditated in his room. He knew that he would be elected as pope the following day, most probably by a unanimous vote. He prayed for divine guidance and went to bed by midnight.

The following morning, the cardinals assembled again in the Sistine Chapel. By 10:00 AM, everybody was present except Cardinal Antonini. The head of the conclave, Cardinal Sean McEnroe, called the hotel where Cardinal Antonini was billeted and requested the manager to check the cardinal’s room. Thirty minutes later, the Vatican Chief of Protocol entered the Sistine Chapel and announced that Cardinal Antonini had an apparent heart attack and did not survive it. The announcement was followed by complete silence. Sensing that his task was done, the Chief of Protocol bowed and turned around to leave the assemblage.

As he opened the door on his way out, a white dove fluttered into the chapel. The dove hovered above looking for a place to land. It crisscrossed the lofty ceiling of the chapel as the awestruck cardinals watched. Suddenly, something attracted the dove’s attention and it swooped down and landed on the head of Cardinal Alfonso Baclig. Cardinal Baclig’s legs buckled and he fell on his knees. After a few seconds, the dove took off and headed towards the door, which was held ajar by the Chief of Protocol who was in a petrified state.

For several minutes, all the cardinals gazed at Cardinal Baclig who was trying to get up. Embarrassed at the humiliating incident, all he could say was, “mea culpa, mea culpa.” Suddenly, the cardinals converged around him, murmuring, “habemus papam, habemus papam…”

One hour later, the vote for a new pope was announced: It was a unanimous vote for Cardinal Alfonso Baclig, the archbishop of Baguio, Philippines. “Habemus papam, habemus papam,” the cardinals chorused. A few minutes later they lit the fireplace with the material that produced a white smoke in the chimney, the signal indicating that a new pope had been elected. The crowd of more than 500,000 people converged in St. Peter’s Square screamed joyously “Habemus papam, habemus papam!”

Cardinal Baclig deliberated on which papal name to assume. He considered many names of great popes before him. But he reasoned that since he was the first Filipino pope, it was appropriate to use “Philip.” Yes, “Pope Philip I,” the first pope with that name and the first Filipino pope. When he emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, his papal name was announced, “Pope Philip I, the 268th pontiff of Rome.” Spontaneously, the crowd cheered, “Habemus Papam Filipini. Habemus Papam Filipini…”

The first night of his papacy in the year 2024, Pope Philip I spent most of the evening alone in his private chapel — meditating, contemplating and praying. He prayed for divine guidance. Becoming a pope was not on his wish list. He was a hands-on archbishop in the Archdiocese of Baguio. He was an unyielding activist for the rights of cultural minorities including his own people, the Igorots. He was a street fighter who championed for the poor and neglected people. At the stroke of midnight, he saw a silhouette on the wall opposite the lighted window. He looked at the window where the image of the silhouette came from. A dove was fluttering outside the window. The dove tapped the glass pane three times and then flew away. He wondered, “Wasn’t that the same dove that landed on my head at the conclave this morning?” He went to sleep hoping that what he saw outside the window was the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that anointed him pope earlier in the day.

The first order of his papacy was to prepare for the forthcoming Third Vatican Ecumenical Council. The ecumenical council was scheduled to convene two years ago. He thought of postponing it; however, he was advised to proceed with the original schedule to keep the momentum going. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council was held in 1962-1965, fifty-nine years ago. Yes, the Church remained unchanged for some time.

There was a clamor for change from a small liberal faction of the Church. The conservatives have the numerical strength but the liberals were more aggressive and vocal. Pope Philip I was pretty sure that there were certain issues that could turn Vatican III into a battle for supremacy that would crack the “Rock” of Christendom. A slew of issues — such as celibacy, ordination of female priests, same-sex marriage, stem cell research, abortion, and population control — could create an atmosphere for schism to grow.

Pope Philip I trembles at the thought of schism. But what really bothered him to no end was the “Last Pope” prophecy of Saint Malachy. In 1139, then Archbishop Malachy O’More of Ireland went to Rome to give an account of his diocese to Pope Innocent II. While in Rome, he received the strange vision of the future wherein was unfolded before his mind the long list of illustrious pontiffs who were to rule the Church until the end of time. The last on that list was the 268th Pope.

Habemus Papam Filipini — a dream or a vision?