A WEEK after Pope Benedict XVI caused ripples that continue to be felt beyond Christendom soon after he announced his resignation from the papacy, supporters of Hugo Chavez released photos of the ailing Venezuelan president smiling from his sickbed in Havana with two daughters by his side.
Despite their supposed respective mandates from God, the contrast between the way the two leaders handle and view power couldn’t have been more different. While a visibly aged but still lucid Benedict XVI announced his resignation in Latin without much fanfare to a group of cardinals in the Vatican, a bloated and glassy-eyed Chavez tried to reassure his anxious paisanos, through his hired mouthpiece, of course, that their beloved comandante was still very much in command.
In Chavez’s case, only the opposite is true. After almost five months since being reelected to another six-year term, and more than a month after he failed to show up for his own inauguration, Chavez returned unceremoniously to Caracas, and was whisked off by an ambulance directly to a military hospital.
Just as when he had left for Cuba to get treatment for an undisclosed type of cancer, the true state of Chavez’s health remains murky and the subject of numerous and endless speculations within the region. Rumor has it that he’s suffering from some form of pelvic cancer, which has afflicted him years before he sought reelection.
The Venezuelan Supreme Court, showing its true colors as a haven of Chavez appointees, sympathizers and apologists, bent over backwards by postponing indefinitely his January 10 inauguration as mandated by the country’s constitution.
Why Chavez has gotten this far despite his questionable health remains a mystery to people not familiar with Venezuelan as well as Latin American politics. But there are certain uncanny similarities between Venezuela and the Philippines, two supposed democracies in name but not in essence.
I could only assume that Chavez, the clever and populist president that he is, was able to cultivate solid support from majority of the Venezuelan masses in the years leading to this current political impasse. Then, too, like the Philippines, members of the opposition in Venezuela are probably weak, fragmented and out only to look for themselves to be able to provide Venezuelans with convincing and viable options, let alone put up a good fight.
In the dark
Like Filipinos were in the twilight years of the Marcos regime, Venezuelans are left in the dark about the true state of their leader’s health and their country’s future.
Whatever a country’s form of government is, its leader’s state of health has always been a touchy subject. But in a supposed democracy, such information, no matter how sensitive, should be made open to public consumption and debate.
Mechanisms for a smooth and peaceful succession should be in place in case a leader suddenly keels over or is rendered mentally unfit (another debatable subject in a pseudo democracy).
What’s alarming is Venezuela, like the Philippines during Marcos’ time, seems devoid of such mechanisms. What it has is a recipe for certain uncertainty and impending chaos. Why should we care?
Since the country is the world’s third biggest oil producer, I need not explain to you why. For beau con junkies, the uncertainty gripping Venezuela these days could eventually hamper the country’s well-oiled selection process for its frighteningly perfect beauty queens. That’s good news for diehard fans in the Philippines and the rest of the world, but I digress. 😀
Chavez’s antics, although as old as time itself, are an antithesis to how Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, conducted himself recently.
So many things have been said and written about why the pope “abdicated,” the first one to do so in 600 years, from the throne of St. Peter. I need not echo all of them to you here. It’s also been said that since he came after Pope John Paul II, his rock star of a predecessor, Benedict seemed boring and conservative by comparison.
Well, when he chose to make his resignation known to us two weeks ago, his actions were anything but humdrum and orthodox. My sweet Jesus, they were radical and earthshaking!
Among the many speculations that struck me was Benedict (as written in Newsweek’s current issue), for all his seeming humility and retiring air, is really a pragmatist and “vain” intellectual. Having seen the attendant drama that shadowed his predecessor as he decided to “carry my cross” to the bitter end, the current pope wanted to spare himself as well as the faithful from such a spectacle.
In short, before age and its ugly downsides like slurred speech, shaking hands and even dementia take over, Benedict, the true intellectual and control freak that he is, wanted to leave the scene with his mental faculties intact.
Problems far beyond
He probably figured that it was the least he could do for his beloved flock as well as his successor, as he’s sure to continue to grapple with festering problems far beyond the Vatican’s walls—from secularism to materialism, mismanaged church finances to numerous cases of pedophilia in Europe and North America—that were seemingly swept under the rug during John Paul’s time, but had managed to resurface like an escaped devil from Hades under Benedict’s watch.
Rather than allow himself to be viewed as a man-God, he admitted, through his resignation, that, like all of us, he’s nothing but a mere mortal, a wise and learned one, nonetheless, who’s as physically weak and far from infallible as the next doddering senior citizen.
Rather than be part of the Church’s numerous problems, Benedict chose to be part of the solution by bowing out while still in full possession of his mind. His decision is nothing if not brave, trailblazing and deserving of Roman Catholics’ gratitude and respect.
Before I end this essay, let me leave you with an observation that didn’t escape my rather infantile mind. Despite being guided to a great extent by the workings of the Holy Spirit, the founding fathers of the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps out of tradition, seemed clueless at reconciling numbers.
Lest we forget, presiding over the Vatican and the entire universal church is far from symbolic. It also involves dedication and backbreaking administrative work that could kill even men half Benedict’s age.
I have no idea if Canon Law has an explanation for this, but while the Roman Catholic Church forbids archbishops from participating in the college of cardinals in the election of a new pope once they reach the ripe old age of 80, it has no problems allowing an elected pope to remain in office until he breathes his last or, say, reaches 120, whichever comes first.
If the Roman Catholic Church is afraid that age might cloud its more senior members’ judgment in electing a new pope and carrying out the duties of one should any of them get elected, why is it allowing elderly popes made of mere flesh and blood, skin and bones to stay on indefinitely? Joseph Ratzinger, indeed, you’re one wise and practical dude.