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Does Pope Benedict XVI's resignation signal the 'end times?'

After Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will be leaving his post by February 28, social media became abuzz with so many topics: How ill is the pope? What was the real reason behind his resignation? Some people even wondered if the end of times was near, citing Saint Malachy's writing, the “Prophecy of the Popes.” “In extreme persecution, the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed the sheep through many tribulations, at the term of which the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the formidable Judge will judge his people. “The end.” This was the chilling last entry in Saint Malachy’s Prophecy of the Popes. St. Malachy O’Morgair was a 12th Century Irish bishop who penned the 112-verse prophecy of the “last popes,” beginning with Celestine II, who reigned in 1143. With predictions like the election (and recent resignation) of Pope John Paul II’s successor — Pope Benedict XVI — Saint Malachy's "Propechy of the Popes" was bound to spark some controversy. The 111th entry, “Gloria Olivae” (Glory of the Olive) some theorists say, speaks about a pontiff carrying the banner of Saint Benedict, whose order’s symbol is an olive branch. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger chose Benedict XVI as his regnal name. He said it was to partly honor his predecessor, Benedict XV, whom he described as “a true and courageous prophet of peace” during World War I. Pope Benedict goes on to say, “In his footsteps I place my ministry, in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples.” Interestingly enough, the symbol for peace is an olive branch. Controversy and conciliation Pope Benedict XVI's reign was criticized by liberals for his conservative views on Catholicism, Islam (which he later apologized for) and Judaism; his views on contraception and AIDS (which he later amended); the various child sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church; his controversial appointments in the Holy See; and corruption within Vatican walls, capped off by the most recent Vatileaks scandal. Others said Pope Benedict XVI made real efforts for religious reconciliation. Israel’s chief rabbi Yona Metzger said in a Reuters report on Feb. 11 that “during his period, there were the best relations ever between the church and the chief rabbinate.” Taken with a grain of salt Theorists are divided on whether the efforts of Pope Benedict XVI to restore orthodoxy to the Church and to reach out to other religions and sects are proof of the validity of the Malachy Prophecy, or if Benedict XVI’s choice of name was simply a mere coincidence. Skeptics aren’t buying the claims made by the text at all, saying that many of the predictions made after 1590 were strained and twisted to make them seem true. Furthermore, there is a claim that the last prediction on Peter the Roman was never in the original list made by St. Malachy, but that it was added at a later date. Some Catholics also doubt the authenticity of the prophecy. De La Salle University-Manila professor Fr. Jay-R Babor, of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart told GMA News Online that it was “most likely a forgery to fit the events to the prophecies, or vice-versa.” Even Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) Fr. Francis Lucas doesn’t buy it. He told GMA News Online that the text may have been created and edited by people who “have partisan advocacy regarding the papacy." "Those who wrote them are theorists rather than theologians. Many historians and illustrious theologians do not accept the predictions,” Lucas added. Tom Horn and Cris Putnam, the authors of “Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here” still believe in the legitimacy of the text because of recent events in the Vatican. “We took the prophecy and what was happening in Italian media, and we determined…that Pope Benedict would likely step down…in 2012 or 2013.” Babor, though, belied that theory. “The resignation has nothing to do with the [St. Malachy prophecy].” Amazing accuracy? What made the prophecy popular among modern-day conspiracy theorists was its supposed amazing accuracy in predicting the identities of the pontiffs:
  • Gallus Vicecomes (French viscount) may have meant Urban VI (reigned 1362-1370). Guiglielmo de Grimoard was born to a French noble family;
  • Flos pilei ægri. (Flower of the sick man’s pill) could have alluded to Clement VII (reigned 1523-1534), who was born Guilio de Medici; the Medicis’ coat of arms featured six medical balls, the largest of which was emblazoned with fleurs-de-lis, or lilies;
  • Pastor et Nauta (Shepherd and sailor) may have referred to John XXIII (reigned 1958-1963), who, before his election as pope, was patriarch of Venice, a maritime city; upon his assumption, John XXIII also declared his goal was to “be a good shepherd;”
  • Flos florum (Flower of flowers) could have meant Paul VI (reigned 1963-1978), whose papal coat of arms featured three fleurs-de-lis or lilies;
  • De medietate Lunae (Of the half-moon) could have meant John Paul I (r. 1978), whose month-long reign began and ended when the moon was half-full. He was also born in the Belluno Diocese. “Belluno” means “beautiful moon.”
  • De labore Solis (From the labor of the sun) may have referred to John Paul II (r. 1978-2005), who was born on May 18, 1920, during a solar eclipse. His funeral in April 8, 2005 coincided with another solar eclipse that was visible in the Americas.
Coincidence or preordination It is still no surprise, though, that conspiracy buffs are having a field day with the Malachy predictions, especially after the announcement of Benedict XVI’s resignation. The last pope, the prophecy says, will be “Peter the Roman,” whose papacy will witness the collapse of Rome and preface the Final Judgement. One website,, speculated that it might be the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Pietro Evasio Bertone, who was born in Romano, Italy. As secretary of state, Bertone is considered the Holy See’s (Vatican’s political entity) prime minister. The cardinal’s name and place of birth are allusions to “Peter the Roman.” Another “Peter,” Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, is also a front-runner to the papacy. Cardinal Turkson is one of three cardinals British bookies are seeing as possible pontiffs. Turkson is also well-placed in the Vatican as head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. As international attention shifts to Rome, many are speculating whether the new pope would be one who will continue the conservative views of his predecessor, or one who will take a more liberal approach. It is certain this next one will definitely have to “lead his flock through many tribulations,” with the growing clamor for institutional reform after a barrage of scandals. Some insist that St. Malachy does not specify that the next pope after Benedict XVI would be the last, and that there may be many others between him and Peter the Roman. Even the Bible, which is the basis of Christian faith, seems to support that claim. It admonishes followers that “No one knows the day or the time… [Even] the Son himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows.” (Mark 13:32 CEV) Fabricated or not, the prophecy of St. Malachy is sure of one thing: The last pope will definitely herald the apocalypse.   However, Lucas cautions, “Many other predictions [like 12/12/12] went by [and we’re still here]. Let's take this one as a funny and exciting event so that we have something to talk about and [remind us that] that this life is not our own.” As Mark 13 says, “Be ready!” — VVP, GMA News