FaithWorld

Telegram diplomacy, Vatican style

What do Albania, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan,  Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia have in common?
Their heads of state all received identical or nearly identical telegrams from Pope Benedict as his plane was flying over their countries on the way from Rome to Australia to preside at the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Youth.
sydney.jpgThe telegrams said “FLYING OVER (NAME OF COUNTRY) EN ROUTE TO AUSTRALIA FOR THE CELEBRATION OF WORLD YOUTH DAY, I SEND CORDIAL GREETINGS TO YOU AND TO ALL YOUR FELLOW-CITIZENS, ALONG WITH THE ASSURANCE OF MY PRAYERS THAT ALMIGHTY GOD WILL BLESS THE NATION WITH PEACE AND PROSPERITY. BENEDICTUS PP. XVI.
That was the version received by heads of state of countries whose majority of citizens practice one of the three monotheistic religions. The others, where other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism are practiced, received a slightly different version  in which the phrase “invoking divine blessings” replaced the phrase “that almighty God will bless the nation”. 
But one could not help but wonder why the telegrams were virtually identical (apart from the God/divine difference) even though the situation in the various countries hardly is.  Current events in Greece, for example, are hardly similar to those in Myanmar or Afghanistan.
When he flew over countries, the late Pope John Paul would sometimes tailor his telegrams to reflect the situation on the ground, even if only obliquely. So, when reporters aboard Benedict’s  plane were handed out 18 telegrams, some read them expecting, or hoping, that a  straightforward or diplomatically creative tea-leaves message might be found in those being beamed to hot spots such as Afghanistan, which is engulfed in war, Myanmar, which is still trying to recover from the devastation of Cyclone Nargis and whose human rights record has prompted concern by the international community, or Vietnam, with which the Vatican hopes to soon establish full diplomatic relations after decades of tensions.
Granted, telegrams are not the building blocks of any state’s diplomacy. But of all the countries that were flown over, the pope has only visited one (Turkey) and perhaps this is the closest he will come to most of the rest of them. 
And, a little old-style tea leaves reading would have helped reporters who clocked more than 20 hours of flying with the pope between Rome and Sydney kill a little time.
And maybe even have produced a story or two more.  

Fierce battle rages for top job in Church of Greece

Funeral of Archbishop Christodoulos in Athens, 31 Jan. 2008/John KolesidisThe gloves are off in the election campaign for a new primate of the Greek Orthodox Church following the death of Archbishop Christodoulos last week. At least four metropolitan bishops are openly vying for the powerful Greek Church’s top post, some of them making their intentions known literally minutes after Christodoulos was buried last Thursday. The election is set for Feb. 7 and mud-slinging and accusations of blackmail are on the daily agenda.

A total of 78 members of the Holy Synod, the majority of whom were appointed by the late Archbishop Serafim (died 1998), are entitled to vote. Metropolitan Bishop Chrisostomos from the Peloponnese said in an open letter at the weekend he was a victim of “blackmail and mud-throwing” from supporters of Efstathios, Metropolitan Bishop of Sparta. Efstathios, one of two front-runners in the race, said: “I cannot believe any one of my supporters could be involved in something like that.”

What is at stake is the powerful influence of the Church over about 95 percent of Orthodox Greeks among the 10 million population, the Church’s extensive financial interests including major real estate developments and a mending of ties with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. The Church of Greece’s relations with the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians were damaged to the brink of collapse during Christodoulos’s tenure. While Christodoulos deftly used the media to raise his own profile, this exposure turned some supporters away in the later years of his 10-year reign. Critics said he used the media to interfere in government policy-making, accuse homosexuals of having a “handicap,” call Turks “barbarians” and attack the patriarchate. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, an ethnic Greek from Turkey, runs a tiny Orthodox community in what was once the Byzantine capital of Constantinople and needs outside support for his delicate balancing act with the Turkish government.