In February, Pope Benedict announced his intention to resign the Papacy. As the month ended, he officially stepped down. The College of Cardinals is convening shortly to choose the next Pope. The intent is to have the new Pontiff in place before Easter, this holiest time in Christendom.
There has been a lot of buzz since Pope Benedict’s announcement. His resignation or retirement or whatever it is called only happened once before, and that was something like 600 years ago. There has been a lot of discussion and speculation about having two living Popes. Who would have the authority? Who would have the greater influence? Would Pope Benedict second-guess the new pontiff’s actions? This is in spite of Pope Benedict’s stated preference to live out his days in prayer as a simple hermit.
This is new and uncharted territory for the Catholic Church. They are not sure how to act and react. The second oldest Christian Church needs the help from the oldest Christian Church in the world: the Armenians.
How could the tiny nation of Armenia and Armenians in the diaspora possibly help the far bigger and far richer Catholic Church? Well, in this one regard, the Armenians have a vast amount of experience. Armenians have had two or more Popes—we call them Catholicoses—for centuries.
Indeed, we are a small nation. Has there been any reason to have two Popes? It is simple; we have a history of being invaded by peoples who did not appreciate our Christianity. We moved the head of our church upon occasion from Etchmiadzin (our Vatican) to different and safer locations. As Armenia is a mountainous place with plenty of isolated places, it was easy to have a Vatican tucked here or there to be used as needed. When they moved the Catholicos back, the vacated temporary Vatican had all this structure of followers, priests, bishops, and monasteries. This infrastructure simply did what human infrastructures do—they assumed they had an independent right to exist. So, they simply elected a brand new Catholicos and, voila, we had two. There were periods of times when we had more than two Popes. We tried a few different numbers and for our really small numbers and dysfunctional collective psyche, two Popes seemed to be the optimal number.
Truth be told, we have a few Patriarchates as well. One is in Istanbul and the other is in Jerusalem. These Patriarchs are like junior Popes. We are small but we are splintered. In this splintering, and through constantly being conquered, we have found our strength and odd arrogance that has sustained us as a people for these many years.
We could tell our Catholic brothers and sisters not to worry. It is no big deal having two Popes. There are problems like families divided by allegiance to one Pope or the other. The factions may not talk to each other for several generations. Yes, there may be excessive facilities since each Pope needs his own church in each community. No big deal, really. There is nothing to make a fuss over. It is actually fun and a source of incessant heated debates and discussions at every holiday. Except for the divided factions that hate each other and never speak, it helps keep families together and feeling righteous. The Catholics have no clue how rich their lives will become with two Popes!
Welcome to the two-Pope club, brothers and sisters.