CatholiCity 2005

A City Divided – How Israel’s Wall Is Splitting the Holy Land

Deal W. Hudson
January 10, 2005

I met my guide, Helmut Konitzer, at the airport. A German who visits the West Bank to assist the sisters, monks, and priests living there, Helmut had the look of a well-cut drifter. I wasn’t surprised when he told me his preferred mode of transportation was his motorcycle, especially when medicines have to be delivered quickly to the sisters for their work. Cars are always delayed by the roadblocks. “On my motorcycle, I can just go around, as you will see,” he said.

There was still a little sunlight left in our day, and Helmut thought it important to introduce me to one reality of life in the Holy Land – the checkpoint. He took me to the most dangerous checkpoint on the West Bank, the one that blocks the road leading into and out of Ramallah, home to the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

All the roads in and out of the West Bank have checkpoints. Cities and suburbs that used to be minutes apart are almost totally separated by the time and trouble it takes to traverse these roadblocks. A simple car trip from Ramallah to East Jerusalem or from Jerusalem to Bethlehem – which normally takes only a few minutes – can now take an hour or more. That is unless you have the yellow license plate of an Israeli citizen.

I realized I would be thankful for Helmut’s motorcycle.

Once we were through the checkpoint, we still had time to look at the Mount of Olives as the sun was setting. I was about to see the most sacred ground in the world. I stepped from the car and looked down upon the place where Jesus was arrested, crucified, and resurrected. The late afternoon sunlight was almost blinding and extremely hot as I tried to take it all in.

And that’s when I saw it. Looking north, I could see clearly in the distance a towering concrete wall that wound its way to the spot where I stood. This was the reason I had come. It is being built by Israel to help prevent suicide bombers and other terrorists from entering the country. Thus far, it has met with success. But for Christians, that success has come at a price.

A Briefing in Rome

Before I arrived in Jerusalem, I made a point to meet with Rev. David Jaeger in Rome. A convert born both Jewish and Israeli, he’s the kind of priest who should be the protagonist in a series of detective novels. He has the size of a man who spends too much time at the table in conversation, but once he speaks, I’m grateful that such a Chestertonian character still exists. Given his intelligence and encyclopedic memory, I could see why he occupies such an important position in the Vatican. Father Jaeger is officially in charge of all the diplomatic negotiations between the Holy See and the nation of Israel.

When we sat down in a hotel adjacent to the airport, he thought it important that I first understand the history and status of negotiations between the Holy See and Israel – the purpose of which was to finalize what is called the “fundamental agreement” between the two nations, formalizing their legal and diplomatic relationships. (Catholics sometimes forget that the Holy See is also a political, governmental entity in the eyes of other nations.)

Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, the Israeli government had canceled the most recent negotiations just as the two sides seemed on the verge of settling many of the legal and financial issues left unresolved by previous talks.

Shortly following my return to the United States, Israel returned to the talks but disappointed Jaeger by saying they had no authority to actually negotiate. This prompted a letter from Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) asking Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to continue the negotiations with an Israeli delegation with real authority. The letter worked. As I write, the two nations are back at the table making progress.

Unfortunately, the fundamental charter – the fruit of earlier negotiations that was signed in 1993 – was never added to Israeli law, which means it is unenforceable. And thus, Church property disputes cannot be resolved in the court because there’s no legal relationship between the Church and the Israeli government. There are many cases of confiscation of Church property by Israel that have never been resolved or even litigated.

The Wall

There’s something shocking about seeing the wall for the first time, large and imposing as it is. When you stand next to a concrete section, it seems like overkill – its dwarfing presence signifies a resolute intent. But there are good reasons why it was conceived and built. Israel has been plagued for years by suicide bombers, young Palestinians who strap explosives to their bodies and blow themselves up in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Since September 2000, 921 people have been killed by these attacks, including many non-Israelis and several American citizens. The rationale for the proposed 400-mile wall (estimates vary between 372 and 466 miles) – officially called a “fence” – is to provide a buffer zone against terrorism. As of September 2004, more than 125 miles have been built. Fifteen miles consist of a 28-foot-tall concrete wall surrounded by security fences; the remainder is made up of chain-link fences, barbed wire, trenches, and landmines.

There is evidence that, at least in the short term, the wall has made Israel more secure. A spokesman for Sharon estimates that the structure has reduced attacks by 50 percent. Others argue that the barrier has been even more effective than that.

But while the number of suicide bombers has measurably decreased, they’re still active. In one case, terrorists resorted to firing rockets over the wall into Jewish neighborhoods. Thus far these attacks have been largely symbolic – no one has been killed by them and little damage has resulted. Nevertheless, with each terrorist strike, the rationale for the wall gains strength, and debate about specific problems with the structure recedes from public view.

This is a shame since I’m concerned that there’s a larger, long-term price to pay here. And those footing the bill are too often the few remaining Christians left in the Holy Land – most of whom are Palestinian – and by the Christian apostolates who minister to the West Bank communities.

Unfortunately, even the mildest criticism of the wall is considered by some to be an outrageous breach of support for Israel. Shortly before I left for Jerusalem, Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) took this risk by writing an open letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell protesting the construction of the barrier, the confiscation of Church property, and the breakdown in negotiations between Israel and the Holy See. Like Congressman Hyde, I do not question Israel’s right to exist or its absolute obligation to defend its citizenry against heinous acts of terrorism. Nevertheless, I do fear that this structure has actually deepened the hatred between the two neighbors. Given how bad the blood has been between them, this is a tragic achievement.

According to the Israeli government, when completed, over 95 percent of the wall will be made up of a “chain-link fence system,” utilizing 60 to 100 yard-wide cleared areas with ditches, roads, razor wire, watchtowers, cameras, and electronic sensors.

The walls and fences follow, roughly, the boundaries of what is termed the “Green Line,” or the truce lines of the 1948 war of independence. However, in several significant places, the wall juts out into the West Bank to surround various Jewish settlements. In doing so, it often separates Palestinian farmers from their fields or convents from the schools they run.

The structure was politically controversial from the beginning. President Bush, Israel’s most important political ally, said on July 23, 2003, “I think the wall is a problem. And I discussed this with Ariel Sharon. It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank. And I will continue to discuss this issue very clearly with the prime minister.”

A month later it was reported that the Bush administration was actually threatening to withhold billions of dollars in loan guarantees from Israel if the Sharon government continued to build the wall through the West Bank. Yet the Israelis, led by a determined Sharon, never halted the construction. And two months later, after some alterations in the wall route made at the request of the White House, the administration ended its public opposition.

But the story doesn’t end there. It can’t. Too many have been harmed by the wall and its winding route. It was time for me to meet them.

The Daughters of Charity

The Daughters of Charity have ministered to the people of the West Bank for centuries. At present they offer services to both Palestinian and Israeli foster children. On the second day of my trip, I was welcomed by Mother Josephine and Sister Lodi. They are a study in contrasts: Josephine tall and reserved; Lodi short, talkative, and ready to show me exactly where the Israeli government stole their land.

Apparently, in early April 2003, Mother Josephine was approached by a group of Israeli military officers who told her that a wall was to be built “very close” to their property: Did they prefer to be on the Israeli or the Palestinian side? This was a tremendous dilemma: The sisters had served this community of East Jerusalem for hundreds of years and were now being asked which neighbors – those to the east or those to the west – to cut off. After much deliberation, they felt constrained to choose the Israeli side because it would interfere less with their staff and the children they house.

The nuns were soon shown a map of the area and were assured that the wall wouldn’t touch their property. But later that month, Sister Lodi heard a loud noise at the back of the monastery property. She went to investigate and found a bulldozer breaking through their stone fence. When she asked one of the soldiers accompanying the construction crew just what they were doing, he pointed a gun at her chest and said, “Sister, go back to your house. We are not to talk to you; we are ordered to come here to do what we are ordered to do.”

The men used the bulldozers to prepare the area for construction, destroying the nuns’ orchard of olive and lemon trees. Since it was nearly time for the olive harvest, the sisters asked if they could at least pick the olives before the trees were bulldozed. They were refused.

Split in Two

But the Daughters of Charity isn’t the only religious community to suffer. Not far away, Russian Orthodox Mother Agapia – the sister of former Clinton-adviser-turned-media-star George Stephanopoulos – runs the Bethany School, owned by the Orthodox convent of St. Mary Magdalen.

Unfortunately, the wall has actually separated the school from the convent itself. The sisters now must go around the winding wall and through the numerous checkpoints to get to their school. The Christian children on the other side will soon be unable to attend at all. Mother’s first concern, though, was that the 80 or so Christian families who still remain in the Bethany area will leave. For centuries Bethany, like many cities around Jerusalem, was almost entirely Christian. Not so anymore.

“Out of 15,000 people living here, there are only 70 to 80 Christian families left,” she told me. “Most of them have Jerusalem IDs, and up to this point they’re educated, people. They’ve had jobs, whether in tourism or accounting or working for the Franciscan Press, but their lives are on the other side of the wall. So if this wall becomes a case where the people are sealed off, it’s inevitable that they’re going to have to consider moving out of there.”

Mother looks at the future and sees only the physical remnants of Christianity. “We’ll still have the churches,” she said, sadly. “Lazarus’s tomb is down the road about a one-half kilometer from the school here, and there’s a Greek convent across the street from us. So the churches themselves may stay, but there won’t be life – the living stones are going to be gone. And I think the situation is going to repeat itself in Bethlehem and within the center of Jerusalem because the life for the normal people is being squeezed out. They see no hope for the future for their children, and even trying to conduct daily life is becoming increasingly impossible. The Holy Land is being mutilated.”

I asked her if being covered from head to toe in a black habit made it difficult to get through the checkpoints. She nodded. “There’s a route that we should be able to easily get from Bethlehem, and we can’t do it. I have sisters, nuns in our community, who during the Nativity season, tried to enter Bethlehem to go to a church service and were turned away by the Israeli soldiers.”

This is the tale I heard again and again as I visited the religious communities of the Holy Land.

Before praying the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday in Old Jerusalem, I took one more look at the wall and the damage being done to Catholic property.

There was once a time when you could walk the path between the Franciscan and Greek Orthodox monasteries and see the beautiful panorama of the Mount of Olives going down and up the hill on the other side. Today, all one can see is a 28-foot wall of concrete. The structure behind the Franciscans hadn’t yet been finished, but that would soon change – the bulldozers and dump trucks don’t observe the holy day. Behind the monasteries – amid the roaring engines – construction workers were excavating the hill and clearing a 25-yard space on either side of the wall. The area was to be transformed into a militarized zone.

Walking up the hill from the Franciscan monastery toward the creek, flanked by a big earth-moving shovel truck, I looked at the freshly turned earth. It wasn’t hard to imagine that some relics from the time of Christ – Roman coins, maybe? – might still be in that dirt. We’ll never know, as the piles were later removed and discarded.

For a moment, I stood in the gap of an unfinished section of the wall and looked out over the beautiful sight of East Jerusalem stretching up to Lazarus’s Tomb. Will anyone ever see this view again?

A Meeting with the Nuncio

The papal nuncio of Jerusalem is Msgr. Pietro Sambi and he welcomed me in the manner of a natural diplomat: I felt immediately at ease, and he treated our meeting as if it were the most important event of his day (though it surely was not). Among his many responsibilities as nuncio is to represent the political and legal concerns of the Holy See in Israel. This is no small task. When I met with him he was not only very concerned about the wall but also about the disturbing number of religious worker visas that were being turned down by the Israeli government.

When I asked him if he thought the construction of the security wall would backfire on Israel, he didn’t dodge the question. “The wall will damage the image of Israel in the sense that it contradicts the values of the Israeli people,” he explained.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t understand their reasons for building the structure. “It must be clear, terrorism has to be condemned, especially when it is against [a] civil and innocent person. Secondly, terrorism will never bring peace. There is a Chinese proverb that when the fish is swimming, it means that there is water. If you want the fish to stop swimming, you have to take away the water. And you have to take away the reasons for terrorism, by which those in this region justify themselves.”

Sambi felt that the “road map” formally proposed by Middle East negotiators in May 2003 was a good way to remove the conditions that promote terrorism – by creating a Palestinian state, most notably. The wall accomplishes just the opposite: “It is a monument to division and to a future of conflict. It’s separating students from the schools, sick people from the centers of health, people from their places of work, faithful from their places of prayer and what is extremely important in the Palestinian society is creating a belief in family relations…and this is disrupting the basis of Palestinian culture.”

Meeting with the Patriarch

I could not end my trip without a visit to Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. (I am privileged to be a knight in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and the patriarch was going to give me a palm for my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.) His reputation preceded him: Sabbah is considered the bête noir of the Catholic Church for the Israeli government – fiercely outspoken in his criticism of Israel for their treatment of Palestinians. He didn’t mince words with me either.

I first asked him about the dwindling presence of Christians in the Holy Land. According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 40 percent of all Christians have left Israel since 1967. There are now around 72,000 Latin-rite Catholics in the whole of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan combined. I wondered if he thought this was an intentional effort on the part of the Israeli government.

He shook his head. “It is not the intention of Israel. But the fact is, the government creates pressures – such as the visa question – which threatens the existence of the Christians in the Holy Land. The Holy Land Christians themselves are caught between the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis,” he explained. “You cannot distinguish Palestinian Christians… Siege is imposed upon all villages and towns, whether they are Christian or whether they are Muslim… Therefore, this situation of Christians depends absolutely on the general situation of peace and violence in this land.”

But given the spiritual importance of Israel, I asked, why haven’t Catholics in the United States responded more substantially to the crisis? Sabbah noted that it’s partly due to their ignorance of the full situation but also because Americans are far removed from the realities of the Holy Land. “Awareness is needed because Christians everywhere have an obligation towards the Holy Land, and not only towards the Christians but towards Jews and Muslims, as well. The basic call of any Christian is reconciliation. Catholics, and all the faithful in all of the churches, should be made aware of what’s going on here, the truth of what’s happening, and be asked not to [take] sides but to help both the Israelis and Palestinians move towards reconciliation.”

The Only Catholic University in the Holy Land

If there is any Catholic institution in the Holy Land that inspires hope, it’s Bethlehem University. The complex sits on a hill close by the Church of the Holy Nativity. Since 1973 it has served thousands of Palestinian students, only a small percentage of whom are Catholic.

The entrance to the university was well-guarded by sturdy-looking security men with guns visibly displayed. But once inside, the atmosphere was that of any other college campus – filled with smiling and cheerful students studying, chatting, and laughing as they moved from class to class.

Brother Vincent Malham has been president of Bethlehem University, owned by the Christian Brothers, for more than eight years. As we sat and talked in the school cafeteria, he told me how much he worries that the wall will soon encircle all of Bethlehem. At present, 20 percent of the students – including many of the Christians – come from Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the placement of the wall may cause the already low number of Christian students to dwindle even further. It will also affect the ability to keep faculty and staff. Even today, the Palestinian faculty members who live in Jerusalem must park their cars at the checkpoint and walk to the university.

“It’s the systematic strangulation of Bethlehem,” Malham said. Indeed, he thinks the Israelis want to see the further deterioration of the Christian presence there. But if that’s true, why don’t the Evangelical Christians-frequent pilgrims to the Holy Land-see the same thing? “I don’t think they get it,” he answered. “I don’t think they’ve even been over to this side. It’s just like so many of our congressmen who are wined and dined on the other side. They’re met at the airport, they’re given red-carpet treatment, they’re given a very specialized, a very restrictive, a very wonderful visit in Israel itself. They’re told to avoid mixing with the Palestinians.”

A Little Hard To Believe

Deal W. Hudson

On Sunday, John Kerry told Iowa’s Telegraph Herald that he personally opposes abortion and believes that life begins at conception. The exact quote is as follows:

“I oppose abortion, personally. I don’t like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception.”

Amazing.

You may recall the e-letter I sent you in February that covered this very issue. In it, I had assembled several past Kerry comments that seemed to show that Senator Kerry does NOT really oppose abortion – publicly or personally.

For example, compare his recent statement with the remarks he made at last year’s NARAL Pro-Choice America Dinner:

“I think that tonight we have to make it clear that we are not going to turn back the clock. There is no overturning of Roe v. Wade… There is no outlawing of a procedure necessary to save a woman’s life or health and there are no more cutbacks on population control efforts around the world. We need to take on this President and all of the forces of intolerance on this issue. We need to honestly and confidently and candidly take this issue out to the country and we need to speak up and be proud of what we stand for.”

Did you catch that? Not only should abortion be available to all American women, all the time, but it should be used as a population control valve around the world. And this is something we should “be proud of.” Not what you’d expect from someone who claims he doesn’t like abortion.

And this isn’t an isolated comment…

From the Boston Herald on January 23, 2001: “I will not back away from my conviction that international family planning programs are in America’s best interests. We should resist pressures in this country for heavy-handed Washington mandates that ignore basic choices that should belong to free people around the globe.”

Kerry’s support for “international family planning programs” – a standard euphemism for “abortion” – is an issue he’s advocated for some time. If Kerry is telling the truth about being “personally opposed” to abortion, why is he trying to spread it worldwide?

But perhaps the most outrageous quote comes from the 1994 Congressional record: “The right thing to do is to treat abortions as exactly what they are – a medical procedure that any doctor is free to provide and any pregnant woman free to obtain. Consequently, abortions should not have to be performed in tightly guarded clinics on the edge of town; they should be performed and obtained in the same locations as any other medical procedure… [A]bortions need to be moved out of the fringes of medicine and into the mainstream of medical practice. And by the same token, if our children are to be safe from the danger of fanaticism, tolerance needs to spread out of the mainstream churches, mosques, and synagogues, and into the religious fringes.”

Abortion is simply “a medical procedure”? If that were true, then on what grounds could he possibly be personally opposed to it? He certainly doesn’t seem to be struggling with the issue here. And how exactly does he propose to “spread tolerance” to the “religious fringes”? Presumably, he’s referring to the people who, as an article of faith, believe abortion to be immoral. But didn’t he just claim to be one of those very people?

John Kerry says he believes that abortion is wrong and that life begins at conception. And yet he vows to do everything he can to make sure that women have the freedom and right to end that life.

You can say a lot of things about a position like that. But you certainly can’t say it’s Catholic.

The Marriage Amendment Fails… For Now

Deal W. Hudson

As you probably already heard, an initial cloture vote – to end debate on the bill and send the amendment to a final up-or-down vote – was held on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the motion failed by a 48-50 margin.

It’s a serious setback to the FMA’s progress, to be sure, but not a death blow. We’ll just have to keep plugging away and redouble our efforts to support the bill in the future.

And as far as support for the bill goes, I want to commend the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). I had my doubts, but they did prove their commitment to this issue in these crucial past weeks. USCCB president Bishop Wilton Gregory published a personal letter to his fellow bishops, urging them to support the amendment and encourage their senators to do likewise, and the USCCB itself issued a statement declaring their support of the FMA. Furthermore, USCCB general secretary Monsignor William Fay and the Office of Government Liaison’s director Frank Monahan did their part by attending the press conference of Matt Daniels, the president of the Alliance for Marriage and sponsor of the FMA, showing that the USCCB is willing to give visible support to the amendment along with its written support.

While it didn’t end up changing anything, we can’t blame the bishops’ conference. After all, who is it who votes emphatically pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage Catholic politicians into office if not the Catholic voting public? Until we stop sending these men and women to Congress, we can’t complain when they don’t vote in line with Church teaching. And we certainly can’t expect the bishops to come in and single-handedly clean up our mess.

Look, I criticize the bishops conference when it fails to fully uphold the faith. But we also have to be fair. The fact is, they did their part for the FMA, and we need to acknowledge that.

And now for the voter breakdown.

Last time I told you that there were 14 Catholic senators against the FMA, 5 in favor, and 5 undecideds. Fortunately, four of those undecided Catholic senators did the right thing in the end and voted “yes” to the cloture vote on the amendment. Only John Sununu, a Republican from New Hampshire, went the other way and voted “no.” That’s a big disappointment.

(By the way, the most famous Catholic of the bunch, John Kerry, didn’t vote. Big surprise.)

Some of the names on the opposition list are not surprising – Ted Kennedy, Barbara Mikulski, and Tom Daschle, to name a few of the usual suspects. A couple of the names, though, are kind of funny. Dick Durbin of Illinois, for example, who created the infamous Catholic senator “scorecard” that ranked him the second most Catholic senator on the Hill. Who would have guessed that the most Catholic senators in Washington are all ignoring the bishops conference and casting votes in favor of gay marriage?

Anyway, here are the rest of the senators who voted against cloture:

Joseph Biden (D-DE)
John Breaux (D-LA)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Susan Collins (R-ME)
Christopher Dodd (D-CT)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
John Reed (D-RI)

As you can see, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and much will depend on our individual efforts.

Saint Malachi Predicts the Election of Pope Benedict XVI

Deal W. Hudson
April 15, 2005

The election of Benedict XVI set predictable cries of joy and sorrow. Fortunately for the Church, the cries of joy far outnumber the cries of sorrow, even if the media refuses to see it.

But another aftershock of April 19th is buzz sweeping the country about the medieval prophecies of Saint Malachi.

My own daughter came home from her Catholic high school in Fairfax, VA and informed me that there would be only one pope after Benedict XVI. She explained further that the last pope would also signal the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world. “Dad, everyone at school is talking about the prophecies of Saint Malachi, all the students, and even the teachers.”

An internet search and calls around the country confirmed that a bit of Saint Malachi mania is sweeping through the country, especially among Catholic students. In an increasingly virtual age, such information, especially if it’s sufficiently exotic, can be sent nationwide by instant messaging, emails, and bloggers in the space of twenty-four hours.

With respect to prophecies and visions, there are several things to keep in mind. The canonization of a person, such as Saint Malachi, would imply that there is nothing in his prophecies and visions that is contrary to the faith. (Malachi was canonized the first Irish Saint in the Catholic Church by Pope Clement III in 1190 AD)

Thus, it’s important to question whether or not they are authentic. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote an early biography of Saint Malachi, corroborates his gift of prophecy but does not mention any specific prophecies.

Personal revelations should always be read in conjunction with the Scriptural prophecy, especially the Book of Revelation, and the prophecies which the Church gives official credence. The final discernment of prophecies is judged in accordance with the Magisterium of the Church.

Saint Malachi’s prophecies, if you’ve never heard of them, are nothing new. It is claimed they were written by the Irish saint in the twelfth century, but not discovered until the sixteenth. They have been part of Catholic legend ever since.

But, the Saint Malachi prophecies have gained a large following over the last few years for their remarkable accuracy in predicting some attributes of recent popes, including Benedict XVI.

In 1139 Saint Malachi was visiting the Innocent II in Rome when he supposedly received a vision of all the future popes until judgment day. He gave a written account of his vision to the pope that was not discovered in the Vatican archives until 1590.

There has been much debate since then concerning their authenticity. Some scholars believe the prophecies are Jesuit forgeries from the sixteenth century intended to comment on the various popes of that period.

The prophecies of Saint Malachi have first pronounced a forgery by Fr. Menestrier, S.J., in the seventeenth century. He claims the forgery was intended to influence the conclave that elected Gregory XVI. Later scholars, such as J. J. Delaney, Pocket Dictionary of the Saints (1983), note that the descriptions of the 16th-century popes, around the time of the supposed forgery are exact, while their accuracy falls off quickly after 1590. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th edition) pronounces the prophecies “a 16th-century forgery” pure and simple.

The vision itself contains a brief description of 112 future popes beginning with Celestine II who was elected in 1130. These descriptions are in the form of mystical titles referring to some trait, symbol, or biographical detail of the future popes.

Which leads to the question, why would such a document with no ecclesial authority and of undetermined authenticity claim so much attention?

One answer is that some of the recent predictions have been remarkably accurate. Hal Lindsey, the guru of all things apocalyptic, points out in his April 8th article on WorldNetDaily that the “descriptive predictions…Though they are a bit obscure, they have fit the general profile of each of the popes.” He points to the examples of the three popes before Benedict XVI: The prophecy for Paul VI “Flos Florum” (Flower of Flowers) and his coat of arms contained three fleurs-de-lis (Isis blossoms). The description for John Paul I was “De Medietate Lunae,” (the Half Moon). He was baptized Albino Luciani (white light), was born in the diocese of Belluno (beautiful moon), became pope when there was a half moon (Aug. 26, 1978), and died after an eclipse of the moon.

John Paul II was prophesied under the title “De Labore Solis,” (from the labor of the sun), and indeed he was born during an eclipse of the sun on May 8, 1920.

What about Benedict XVI? Lindsey’s article was written before the conclave. As it turns out Saint Malachi describes him as “Gloria Olivae” meaning “the glory of the olive.”

Guess what? The Order of Saint Benedict had a branch called The Olivetans.

The name chosen by Cardinal Ratzinger has put Saint Malachi speculators into high gear because of the prophecy, the saint’s last one, following the Gloria Olivae.

About the last pope, the prophecy reads, “In the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church there will reign Peter the Roman, who will feed his flock amid many tribulations, after which the seven-hilled city will be destroyed and the dreadful Judge will judge the people. The End.”

If Saint Malachi’s prophecy accurately described the last four pontiffs, could it mean that the end is near? The substance of the vision is no problem since it resembles that of the Book of Revelation. The issue is one of chronology: Are we to believe the Judgment Day is at hand?

Even aficionados of these prophecies disagree on this. Some say the prophecy fails to stipulate whether there is only one more pope after Benedict XVI, the Gloria Olivae. Thus, there could be any number of others before the arrival of Peter the Roman. For the others who ignore this ambiguity, Judgment Day seems to be drawing closer with the coming of the last pope.

Our new Pope Benedict XVI is 78 years old. The next pope can’t be that far off — perhaps no more than a decade. This explains why my daughter said sadly, “Dad am I going to live to old age, and have a family and children?”

We’ve seen apocalyptic fever before. Remember “Y2K”? Before anyone starts restocking their basement, I would suggest taking a look at the rest of the list.

Pius X (1903-1914) is “ignes ardens” (ardent fire), Benedict XV (1914-1922) as “Religio depopulate” (religion laid waste). Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) is described as “Fides Intrepida” (unshaken faith). These descriptions fit these popes in a general way but they could fit a variety of others as well, and so on throughout the list.

However, the uncanny accuracy of Saint Malachi’s last four predictions has fueled another round of apocalyptic curiosity and, unfortunately, fear among those too young to protect themselves from the incomplete information on the internet.

Before you or anyone you know starts to descend into apocalyptic gloom recall the Acts of the Apostles, Book One. Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven, one of his disciples asked him a final question, “‘Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?’ And he said unto them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.'” (1.6-7).

We never know when the end might come for each one of us. We have to be ready every day. Based upon a prophecy, can you feel safe in waiting to get ready later, say, during the pontificate of Peter the Roman — when and if that ever happens?

The spiritual purpose of a vision is to suggest some proper understanding or actions that are needed to avoid spiritual harm. Penance, prayer, fasting, redemptive suffering, the Way of the Cross and the Sacraments are our responses to prophecies and personal revelations.

The Hal Lindsey of the world has been predicting the end of the world since I was a teenager. This is just one more interesting and arresting chapter in the history of our attempts to know what may never be known, but which must always be expected.