Pope Benedict = end of the world. Apparently
ROME (Reuters) - Pope Benedict's ascent to the papacy took a conclave of 115 cardinals, four rounds of voting and followed a lifetime of service to the Vatican.
But ask Internet doomsayers eyeing a 12th century Catholic prophecy and they'll tell you it was all stitched up more than eight centuries ago and that judgment day is nigh.
The prophecy -- widely dismissed by scholars as a hoax -- is attributed to St. Malachy, an Irish archbishop recognised by members of the Church for his ability to read the future.
Benedict, believers say, fits the description of the second-to-last pope listed under the prophecy before the Last Judgement, when the bible says God separates the wicked from the righteous at the end of time.
"The Old Testament states: 'believe his prophets and you will prosper' -- so believe it. We are close to the return of the Judge of the nations. Christ is coming," wrote one Internet post by the Reverend Pat Reynolds.
"Thank God for the witness of St. Malachy."
St. Malachy was said to have had a vision during a trip to Rome around 1139 of the remaining 112 Popes. The new pope would be number 111 on that list, and is described in a text attributed to St. Malachy as the "Glory of the Olive".
To connect Benedict, a pale, bookish German, to anything olive takes some imagination. But Malachy-watchers point to the choice of the name Benedict -- an allusion to the Order of Saint Benedict, a branch of which is known as the Olivetans.
"When (he) chose the name Benedict XVI, this was seen as fulfilling the prophecy for this pope," wrote one entry on www.wikipedia.org (external - login to view)
Benedict said that he chose the name partly in honour of Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922), calling him a "courageous prophet of peace". On Wednesday, Benedict dedicated his papacy to "the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples".
"Perhaps Benedict XVI will be a peacemaker in the Church or in the world, and thus carry the olive branch," speculated www.catholic-pages.com (external - login to view)
Another site, www.bibleprobe.com (external - login to view)
, went even further, showing a picture of Benedict holding olive branches in March during Palm Sunday celebrations.
"Is this the Pope of Peace (olive)?" it asked in the caption.
Critics widely dismiss the Malachy prophecy as a forgery and possible propaganda meant to influence a 16th century conclave. Doses of scepticism even appear on the most energetic Malachy web pages.
But believers point out similarities between the prophecy's descriptions and past pontificates. Pope John Paul II, number 110, was described in the prophecy as "de labore solis" -- or "of the labour of the sun".
He was born on May 18, 1920, the same day as a solar eclipse. The pontiff was buried on April 8, 2005 -- the same day as a partial eclipse, visible in the Americas.
More pressing for doomsayers are the prophecy's references to the last Pope on the list, Peter the Roman, who will lead the Church before "the formidable judge will judge his people".
Since Benedict is already 78 years old, they say Peter the Roman must be coming soon, and with him, the end of the world.
"His reign will only last a few years at most. This signals that we are living in what may be the end of days as we know it," said one website entry by someone calling himself SmartBob.
SmartBob sounds like a smart guy.