[FOUNTAIN]Pope’s health stirs concern over successor

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[FOUNTAIN]Pope’s health stirs concern over successor

There are a couple jokes passed between insiders at the Vatican, the papal headquarters in the heart of Rome.
It is the place of martyrdom of St. Peter, the first pope. Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence in the south of Rome, is referred to as the second Vatican. How about the third Vatican? It is the Gemelli Hospital where the Pope checked into Feb. 1 for treatment of an acute respiratory infection.
The Pope has been hospitalized there nine times, and spent over 160 days at a suite reserved for him. Since the pope had an operation after he was shot by a Turkish Muslim in May 1981, the hospital’s medical staff is standing by 24 hours a day to attend to the Pope’s needs.
Pope John Paul I was elected on Aug. 26, 1978, and died 33 days later. John Paul II succeeded John Paul I. The Holy Father has been leading the Catholic world for 25 years and four months now, the second longest reign in Catholic history after St. Peter, the length of whose reign is unknown.
How about the third John Paul? It is a nickname of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The nickname reflects the cardinal’s unchallenged influence in the Holy See in place for the ailing pope.
The expressions, the third Vatican and the third pope, have sarcastic implications and could be considered mere jokes. They are warnings for the absence of the pope and its side effects. The Pope was seriously ill when he arrived at the hospital 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles) away from the Vatican by ambulance. Because of Parkinson’s disease that he has been suffering from since 1992, a mere cold could give him severe respiratory trouble and could threaten his life. He had to be hospitalized for an extended period because of the possibility of pneumonia. Seniors with Parkinson’s disease have a high chance of developing pneumonia from a common cold.
The problem is the modern medicine that saved him 24 years ago. The Gemelli will extend the life of the pope. The prolonged “virtual absence” has ignited demands for resignation.
The Pope is not considering stepping down, mainly because of his sense of religious calling. Science has always challenged religion. Medical advancements demand changes to the holy order of the papacy.

by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.
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