Well, since Pope Benedict XVI has been in the news because of his resignation, I thought I would speak about the office he holds. As for the next pope and what part of the world he will come from, I personally feel that someone from Latin America or Africa would be great, since they are the fastest growing segments of Catholicism. Latin America is the home of 42% of all Catholics, while Africa has 16%. The odds are though, that he will come from Europe where Catholics make up 24%, as compared with 8% in North America. But, in the end, we must rely on the Holy Spirit.
First, I guess I should explain what is meant by the word, “pope.” “Pope” is the title given to the leader of the Catholic Church. The word “pope” is the English version of the Latin “papa” from Greek “pappas,” which means “father.” The title pope (papa) was once used in a broader way than we use it now.
The Church says; “the Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.” “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which can always exercise unhindered (CCC 882).”Why do Catholics believe that the Pope is the visible head of the Church, and the successor of St. Peter? Well, first and foremost, Jesus Christ is and always will be the head of the Church. No one has, nor ever will, replace Him.
The current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is the direct successor to St. Peter, who was the first Bishop of Rome. The Pope’s authority comes from the authority that Christ gave St. Peter. In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus says, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” We see that Jesus is to establish a church. In this scripture passage, Jesus gives to Peter the keys of the kingdom and the power to bind and loose. He is to teach authoritatively and is to be the earthly head of Christ’s Church.
Why is being handed the “keys” so significant? It’s significant because keys are the symbol of authority and power. Peter alone is given this symbol of authority. And it is also significant in light of Isaiah 22:20-22. We see that Jesus was using the identical language in Matthew 16 that Isaiah uses.
Just as the king of a particular country is it’s head, so too is Jesus the head of the Catholic Church: “He is head of the body, the church…(Col 1:18).” So, Catholics do not look to St. Peter as “king” of the Church, but as the “prime minister” who was chosen to be above the other ministers (the other eleven Apostles) and to represent Jesus physically in His absence. By giving Peter the keys, Jesus established an office that has been filled by Peter and 265 successors, all the way to Benedict XVI – an unbroken line to this very day.
The Pope is certainly not “worshiped” by Roman Catholics, because worship is due to God alone. Catholics look to the Pope for spiritual leadership and guidance, just as St. Peter was looked to by the early Christians.
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