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The shoes of the fisherman

By Bisi Lawrence

If you want to start an unending argument, say something even slightly disparaging of the Pope to a Roman Catholic
faithful. (And that, I confess, includes some of my loved ones.) I am very careful when I have to say anything about “Christ’s Representative on Earth” whom I actually hold in very high esteem, though my “Ave Maria” no longer swells with the passion of younger days.

Yes, I was a Roman Catholic worshipper, among other things which I really have neither cause to regret, nor great joy to recall. I then found it quite comfortable to revel in what I believed to be the genuineness of the faith, though I could not help wondering why it had to be stamped with the identity of a particular nationality.

The Pope, through the centuries, has thrown off such narrow definitions of his position. He is the Pontiff of the Roman Catholic congregation world wide, but no one ever finds it necessary to make a point of it generally in any reference to His Holiness. He is just the Pope. Through the centuries, he has been warrior, saint, potentate, but always the high priest who is to be held infallible in all that concerns his faith.

Pope Benedict XVI AFP Photo.
Pope Benedict XVI AFP Photo.

Every worshipper of the Roman Catholic faith adores and is proud of the Pope, or else, has ceased to be a faithful Roman Catholic. The Pope personifies the religion in the eyes and minds of the worshippers who are loud in their distinction of the object of worship and adoration, without making any bones about the distinctive subject of their adulation. The Pope stands alone, unrivalled, incomparable, the nonpareil.

So, how can anyone in that position resign? Retire, well, maybe — but resign? And yet, that is precisely what Pope Benedict XVI has done in an announcement that conveyed that intention earlier in the week. Apart from the shock or surprise which came naturally to millions of people, both catholic and non catholic, some clerics or catholic historians have been at pains to present it all as though it were a normal occurrence. But they still had to mention that the resignation of a Pope had occurred no more than two or three times in history, and the last one was some six centuries ago. So what are we talking about?

We are witnesses to an unusual event, and let no one disguise it. It is not shameful, nor does it in any way denigrate the person of the pontiff or the gospel that he preached. Like almost every Pope before him, (at least, among the ones we grew up to know about) he possessed a special charm of his own. He got involved in religious issues with the Muslims as well as with the Jews, and got away with it.

He was never slack to mend his fences whenever a gap was created, and it was found easy to forgive those lapses when they occurred — after all, he is the Pope. Even our own dreadful Sani Abacha put on his good manners when the Head of the Catholic Church was around, though the dictator did not appear to like it.

Pope Benedict also had to weather the storm of the anger and the anguish which rose and raged over the accusation of improper sexual behaviour among the Roman Catholic clergy, and which was accounted to have been going on for decades before he came on the scene as Pope.

Sharpest cut of all was the insinuation and, in some cases, direct accusation that the higher echelons of the clergy had been aware of the crimes but condoned them. His was indeed a heavy burden to bear in that high office, unrelieved by the eruption of a crisis within his secretarial staff. Only a superb physical condition could have stayed the course and still be able to sprinkle those gentle smiles on all occasions “to the city and to the world”.

But at long last, the weight of his responsibilities and the strain of the exertions demanded by them would appear to have taken their toll. A close look at the Pope’s features, even on television, recently seems to reveal some telling cracks which had stayed hidden for a while. He knew he could not carry on as he would have wished. That, to me, is his reason for throwing in the towel— in a manner of speaking. Not that he would have minded going on till the final whistle, but that he cared so much more about the lapses that might occur through his inability to cope adequately with his duties.

A vestige of the power of a former potentate will still cling to him in retirement. So will strands of the former phenomenal influence. But the glamour and the glory of a pontiff will always be confined only to him who wears “the shoes of the fisherman”.

*have done with lesser things
There is hardly anyone, even if he has never handled a copy of the Nigerian Constitution, who does not know that it grants the National Assembly various powers for the stringent discharge of the onerous tasks of establishing and sustaining good governance in the land, and the right to summon any citizen considered necessary to appear before either the Senate or the House of Representatives to achieve this inestimable purpose. The legislators are rampant in the pursuit of this objective to an admirable degree and, though it would sometimes appear, somewhat beyond that.

A feeling may soon congeal among the citizenry that the honourable members concentrate so much on the efficacy of probing any issue through the interrogation of a high and responsible official involved, to the neglect of a less prickly process of investigation.

The high officials are usually “invited” initially during the course of a public hearing, which may be televised, and in peremptory tones that bespeak a rough time ahead, thus creating a feeling of serious embarrassment for the summoned official. The order to appear sometimes conveys the offensive stench of judgement before a trial. And the presumption of guilt unfortunately resonates, in some cases, in the conduct of the appearance of the hapless official to the disgust of fair-minded people.

This is from where the reluctance of some invited officials finds its roots when it comes to honouring the invitation of the honourable members. They feel humiliated and deprived of the respect to which they are entitled from the legislators. As upright citizens, until they are proved otherwise, they merit no little consideration from people who assumed the high position through the votes of the ordinary citizens.

The charade is brought to its most deplorable level, however, on the occasions when an official seems to decline the invitation of the legislators. The “stinking object” then fairly hits the fan. Fire and brimstone are spewed all over the environment. Warnings are sounded. Threats are issued. To the errant official. To the Inspector-General of Police. Even to the President of the Federation. Will the Senate mount a vendetta against every official for not responding to its invitation? Will they close down this nation because one official again calls their bluff?

We need to continue our high regard for our National Assembly. But they must help us and, like men of God, “have done with lesser things”.

*the lady with a heart of gold
Through the years, I have always been able to put the St. Valentine’s Day craze in its place— out of my mind, in the void somewhere. But in recent times, the core — if one can call it that —of the message of St Valentine’s Day, has been extracted for my appreciation by the special way in which some people have directed its observance.

I suppose that love, romantic love, is the reason for this particular season from the way most of the young, and not so young, people have been carrying on. There are flashes of kissing and embracing with undertones of how ephemeral it all means. But there can be more to the celebration of love and loving actually, if one looks beyond the purely carnal and grabs the spiritual breadth of it.

Every year, Mrs Biola Adedayo, a professional pharmacist, uses the St. Valentine spirit to express her love and compassion for the widows in the Apapa-Iganmu Local Development Area, where her husband is the Chairman. She arranges, “with a little help” from hubby, a rousing get-together for the ladies, young and old, whom death has deprived of their husbands, and supplies some appreciable feel of the “good earth” through music and  joyous communication. The women look forward to it like a fresh date, though one of them confesses to missing her husband. “But in fact”, she said, “this is really like a memorial of love in honour of our departed loved ones.”

St Valentine’s Day now has retained some significance for many old lovers, and even for me too, in this manner — thanks to Mrs Biola Adedayo, the lady with a heart of gold.

Time out.


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