ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church


Understanding what “pope” is all about.

Pope [from the Old English from late Latin, from the late Greek bishop, from the Greek child’s word for father] 1. In the Roman Catholic Church, the bishop of Rome and the head of the Church. 2. One who assumes, or is considered to have, similar great authority. 3. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, a parish priest.

Usually we call him Holy Father. The official yearbook of the Catholic Church, the Annuario Pontifico, identifies John Paul II with all his formal titles, in the following order:

Bishop of Rome,
Vicar of Jesus Christ,
Successor of the Prince of the Apostles,
Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church,
Patriarch of the West,
Primate of Italy,
Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province,
Sovereign of the Vatican City State,
Servant of the Servants of God.

Not all of these descriptions are applied exclusively to John Paul II. For example, as the dictionary definition points out, in the East, pope, or papa, has always been used to designate simple priests.

In the Western Church the title was originally used for bishops. Gradually it became restricted to the Bishop of Rome. Since the time of St. Pope Gregory VII it may be used by that bishop only.

In the Eastern Church, even today, the Greek Orthodox and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchs of Alexandria are given the title of pope.

The Patriarchs of Antioch consider themselves successors of St. Peter too; Peter headed the Christian community of Antioch before moving to the imperial capital city of Rome.

No matter what the titles or how they are used, it is incontestable that John Paul II, both by the force and charism of his personality and office, holds a unique place in the modern world.

It’s probably fair to say that most Christians and non-Christians alike consider him the premier spokesman for Christianity. In that sense, everyone seems to agree in the primacy of the pope.

When it comes to the exact nature of his authority and how his special ministry should be exercised, there are significant differences of opinion among Christians.

Most would agree that the pope’s ministry and primacy are connected with the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church, but there is much disagreement about what form this role should take.

Pope John Paul himself, in his recent encyclical letter, Ut Unum Sint, called attention to this: “I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility…in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.”

May the pope lead us into a new understanding of what the pope is!

Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA

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