Pope Gregory XVIJ
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Pope Gregory XVIJ was born March 2nd, 1907 to a Maronite family in Aleppo (ܚܰܠܰܒ), Syria, then still a part of the Ottoman Empire. He was the youngest of ten surviving children. His birth name was Youhana bar Makārijūs, eventually Latinized as Joannes Macaricius Berœensis (John, son of Macarius, of Aleppo, known by its Latinized Greek name of Berœa). His family was impoverished and incredibly pious. They were the recipients of aid from Latin rite counter-missionaries sent to the Levant by the papacy to stem the tides of native Catholics (Armenians, Levantines, and Maronites) converting to other faiths. John's father received employment through the help of counter-missionaries at the household of Giulio della Chiesa, son of the Genoese Marchese Giuseppe della Chiesa. Giulio was a merchant who did business in the Near East and widely celebrated as a man of wealth and taste by the local Levantine community (an ethnic group nativized to the Levant descended from the Crusaders, Italian merchants, and native spouses and converts). John was partially raised at the della Chiesa household. Latin rite Catholic missionaries thus put the future pope's career in motion.
War also changed the life of the Makārijūs family forever. The start of the Great War pulled the mask back on the inequality of the Ottoman Empire. For the past few decades, Islamism steadily gained popularity among the Sunni populace in the Ottoman-ruled lands. Muslims were never a majority in the Empire (the Balkans and Anatolia especially), and this cultivated a feeling of indignation of the local non-Muslims since the beginning. Fear of its non-Muslim subjects was integral to the very foundation of the Turkic raiding confederacy that took over two-thirds of Anatolia in the Thirteenth Century nearly bloodlessly after the destabilization of the region due to the Crusades. Ottoman [Sunni] Muslims always felt a sense of persecution as a minority in their "adopted" homelands and this provided the notions needed for an islamist ideology to grow at every rank of society, from illiterate peasants who might not even speak Turkish to the statesmen in the majles (parliament). Once war was declared by Konstantiniyye on the Entente, the native Christians were the first victims of persecution. The Maronites and Levantines were no exceptions, although the lion's share of violence was directed at the more native Rûm [Greeks] and Armenians. One the 31st of October, 1914, the day that war was declared, foreign nationals of enemy countries were ordered to be expelled. The pasha/pâdešâh of Aleppo zealously carried out the initiative. Desperate to keep their children safe, John's father asked Giulio della Chiesa to take as many of his children with him to be raised safely in Genoa. Della Chiesa secured Italian passports for the youngest six. The oldest four siblings were adults, some with children of their own, so they stayed behind and sent their children in their steads. A week after the order to expel enemy nationals, Giulio della Chiesa and his charges sailed for Malta and then Genoa.
Misfortune followed the bar Makārijūs family to Italy. Giulio died in 1915 and his wife was wholly uninterested in taking care of foreign children. Fortunately, Giulio's brother Giacomo was happy to take them in. Giacamo Paolo Giovanni Batista della Chiesa as of the 3rd of September, 1914 was better known as "Pope Benedict XV." He took them into the papal household in Rome after less than a year of their life spent in Genoa. The children's Italian language skills were lacking at the time. The children most likely knew Syriac and Levantine Arabic quite well, and maybe some Sabir (a type of creole which had both a northern Italian and Catalan/Narbonosc base and plenty of loanwords from Arabic, Greek, & Turkish), but none of them probably spoke passable Italian yet by then. All were given private tutoring at the papal palace. The boys of the group were enrolled at the Pontificio Collegio dei Maroniti ("the Pontifical College of Maronites") when they came of age to attend by 14. Youhana/John, who by now went by "Zane," (which is "Johnny" in Ligurian), was the one sibling to take to the spirituality of the college out of all the siblings and their nephews and nieces. As the youngest, he learned Ligurian and eventually standard Tuscan (standard Italian) the fastest. He was one of his grade's brightest pupils. He eventually graduated at the top of his class. Benedict passed away in 1922 at age 68. The future Fr. Giovanni served as a secretary for his patron's successor, Pope Pius XI, starting that year. His new benefactor Pius gave him an immediate dispensation to be ordained a subdeacon at age 18 and a deacon by 24. However, upon graduation a year early from the Maronite College, "Zane" was at a crossroads. He attended church daily with the closest thing he had to a father-figure in his life in the Latin rite and only attended Qurbana (liturgy) at the Maronite College when mandatory. By his graduation from high school, he clearly felt more of a connection to his new homeland of Italy and western culture than to his native Levant. Some biographers suspect that the Jesuits who ran the Maronite College even encouraged him to change rites as for centuries until the mid-1900’s, Western Europeans considered the Latin rite the highest form of liturgical expression and Uniatism as not but a stepping stone for converts to Catholicism on their way to the “proper” rite. The Maronite liturgy by then had also long been latinized. Latinizations popped up in the Maronite version of the Syriac Rite Qurbana immediately after some of them allied with the Crusaders and left the isolationist Monothelite Church for Catholicism. Ironically enough, it was Youhana as pope who would turn control of the various Roman Colleges built for Easterners over to their own priests and out of the hands of the Jesuits and encourage the various Uniate Churches in communion with Rome to throw away their centuries of latinization.
Pope Pius XI granted Zane DiVeria's canonical transfer to the Latin rite immediately upon his high school graduation in 1924. He graduated from the Sapienza University of Rome after transferring there from the Maronite College at age 17 in 1924. He graduated at age 21 in 1928.
Zane/Giovanni DiVeria was ordained at age 25, in the year 1932. At such a young age he was no doubt expected to act as a parish priest in a small town, but as the reigning pope took him into his household in 1915, he had no problem finding an illustrious position that kept him in the city of Rome. He was stationed at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (La Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore/Basilica Sanctae Mariae Maioris) and served there even after his unofficial adoptive father's passing a year later. He got along quite well with Benedict's successor, Pius XI, as evidenced by his service at such a prestigious church and his role as Pius' secretary. He was one of several priests under the archpriest who acted as dean in the pope's absence. He was priest there for three years, from 1932 to 1935 when he was made a titular bishop and sent to represent the papacy in the Christian East.
Episcopate and Time in Bulgaria
Pope Pius was vastly impressed by his predecessor's charge and felt that he was destined for greatness. As such, he approved his ordination as bishop at just age 28—seven years below the minimum age mandated by canon law. He felt that as someone born in the Christian East and who was educated at a Maronite (Uniate) school, he could be a useful weapon in the struggle to convert not just individual Eastern Christians to Catholicism, but whole Churches. He was made an apostolic visitor to Bulgaria as the country had no official relations with the Papal States and enthroned as the titular bishop of Gratianopolis, a defunct see in what is today French Algeria. He chose as his episcopal motto Obedientia et Pax ("Obedience and Peace"). The future pope shocked the Latin hierarchy because he bilingually presented his motto in both Latin and Western Syriac. His episcopal crest read both "Obedientia et Pax" as well as Maṣ'yatta wa-Shlama (ܘ-ܫܠܡܐ ܡܰܨܝܰܬܬܳܐ). At the time, he kept his given name of John.
It was in Bulgaria that the future pope showed the Catholic world his political adeptness as well as his spiritual insights. He campaigned tirelessly for political recognition for local Catholics from the tsardom. The Bulgarian tsardom at that time was ruled by the Russian-installed noble Bahmanov Family (Бахманов) which ruled as the "Persidskii Dynasty" (Персийскя Династия), a nod to their imperial Persian roots. The root "Bahman" in Persian (𐭡𐭤𐭥𐭬𐭭) is derived from a contraction of the phrase "Vohu Manah" (𐬬𐬊𐬵𐬎 𐬨𐬀𐬥𐬀𐬵), meaning "Good Purpose/Mind/Thought." Although modern Bulgaria was almost entirely built up with Russian help, the new tsardom sought to not align itself with any one camp. Bulgarians felt that they were alone in fighting the Ottoman Empire and at the same time above all they had to outsmart their rivals: the Greeks, Romanians, and Serbs. Bishop John wanted to exploit this cool off in Russo-Bulgarian relations and bring the fledging country into the Western camp, if not spiritually then politically.
First and foremost, Monseigneur Giovanni had to take care of the spiritual needs equally of the Western expats in the country, the generationally Catholic Paulicians whose ancestors were Bogomils who chose Catholicism or Orthodox Christianity or Islam in the 1600's in the Banat region, and the newly converted Uniate Bulgarians who fled Greece slightly before the First Great War started. The former group outnumbered the latter two groups combined. In addition, he was tasked with establishing a seminary and to take care of the various monastic orders present in Bulgaria. His laundry list of objectives was only expected to temporarily hold him in Bulgaria. His mission there was ultimately part of the greater plan of Pope Pius to awaken Catholicism in the Christian East, ranging everywhere from Russia to Judea. A seminary run by the Passionist Order was opened in the city of Ruse, a city located on the banks of Danube during his tenure as apostolic visitor in the country.
Eventually, because he was so good at his job, the hierarchy in Rome realized that he needed to stay in Bulgaria to represent papal interests. He was the bishop that the papacy had been looking for to shepherd the Catholic community there. In 1939, just weeks before the Second Great War started, he was called back to Rome to be enthroned as the Archbishop of Philippopolis and declared an apostolic vicar, meaning that his ministry was to focus on missionary endeavors as Bulgarian dioceses were not yet firmly established. His new title was "Archiepiscopus Sophiensis et Philippopolitanus." He was bishop of Sophia & Plovdiv for ten years as he was stuck there due to the war. He personally used Catholic aid to take care of Bulgarian troops and civilians alike regardless of ethnicity or religion. Bulgarians called his aid stations for the wounded “papal canteens.”
His endeavors in Greece however were not so successful, nor in Turkey. The Greek people were extremely hostile to anything having to do with the west, especially Catholicism. They put up with a Protestant king with loyalties to his native Denmark only because England forced them to do so on pain of embargo. When several foreign statesmen calling the shots upon Greece's independence from the Ottoman Empire demanded that the weak nation-state confiscate (Orthodox) ecclesiastical property, King George chose instead to expropriate the land owned by the Catholic Church in Greece, not the Orthodox one. This was taken as the highest insult in Rome, an act of aggression never forgotten by the statecraft wing of the Latin Church. Archbishop John was instructed to get the land back, but he was ultimately unsuccessful. He attempted to set up a cathedral in Thessaloniki for the last of the Bulgarian Uniates left in the city, but this was blocked every step of the way by the local municipality who refused to give him a building permit for anything. In the end, the archbishop let the tiny, dwindling community continue worshipping at the French church on the city's west side. Only months and years later, he had to oversee the last members of this microscopically tiny community migrate to the Bulgarian nation-state. Almost all Bulgarian Eastern Catholics to this day can trace their ancestry back to the former-Exarchists who were so nationalistic that they ragequit Orthodox Christianity for Catholicism to get their own sui-juris sub-Church. Their numbers were augmented by Roma converts no doubt promised material gain by Western missionaries and a handful of Armenian converts to Catholicism. For most of the 19th & 20th Centuries however, more people in the Bulgarian Catholic Church left it for the Latin rite than were born into or joined it every year. Monseigneur Giovanni also could not get legal recognition for the Latin Church in Greece. Legal recognition for the Catholic Church in Greece has never come. Greece was probably the first time in the life of this papal wunderkind that he failed more than he succeeded. The future pope's distrust of anything Greek and his extreme Bulgarophilia stuck with him for the rest of his life. Likewise, in Turkey, as he was born an Ottoman subject—a dhimmi, even— his overseeing of the Catholic communities in Turkey (Latin rite Levantines, Armenian Rite Cilicians, & a small community of Maronites in the Mersin area) was taken as an insult by the touchy Turkish people. In fact, his presence was so unpalatable to the local populace that his superiors in Rome had to take him off the mission to Turkey and install someone else: a native of Bohemia by the name of Anselm. Fr. Anselm ended up shocking the world when he renounced the Trinity after thrusting himself into the daily life of the Ottomans and simultaneously declaring himself a Unitarian. He later converted to Islam and died a celebrated figure in Konya. Pope Gregory's biographers believe that in the eyes of the Turkish Muslims, he was a symbol of the failed genocide against Christians in Anatolia. He was a reminder that people lived to tell the tale of the horrors that lasted for a decade from 1914 to 1924. He was never shy about his conviction that state persecution and sectarian violence forced him to be separated from his family in Aleppo and that what happened all across the Ottoman Empire from Konstantiniyye to Beirut was a genocide, even if it was a failed one. The Sublime Porte, after winning a brutal civil war that killed potentially millions, could not help but take his presence in Gordion as a snub by the Western powers that threatened the Turkish order of things.
Patriarch of Antioch
The papacy felt it was a good idea to make an easterner patriarch of one of the parallel episcopates it set up as rivals to the other original sees of the pentarchy (Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, & Alexandria). As such, after the dust settled in Europe in 1949 thanks to the end of the Second Great War, Bishop Giovanni was called back to his first parish, the Basilica of St. Mary Major where he was enthroned as [Latin] Patriarch of Antioch, Gregory. He chose the patriarchal name of Gregory after the famous Syriac Orthodox theologian Bar Hebræus, although officially his patron saint was Gregory Nazianzēnós. He made sure people knew him as "Ġrīġūriyūs" (ܓܪܝܓܘܪܝܘܣ), especially his new flock. It was ultimately his decision to return to Syria for the first time in 28 years.
Breaking protocol, the new Bishop Gregory was enthroned as both the Latin rite patriarch of Antioch but then acted also as apostolic vicar of Aleppo. This allowed him to reside in his hometown while maintaining his episcopal mantle. The town of Antioch ("ʾAnṭākiya" in Arabic, written as "ܐܢܛܝܘܟܝܐ" in the Garshuni/Syriac script) was completely rebuilt after the League of Nations awarded it to the Republic of Syria in 1919 in order to appease the Christian community. For the first time since the Ottoman conquest in 1517, the patriarchs of the various Christian communities could return to the original Antioch-on-the-Orontes. The vast, vast majority however were Eastern Orthodox Christians, Alawites, and Ismaili Shia, the latter two of which did not in the slightest get along. The Sunnis, who were previously a healthy plurality of the sleepy town and its environs, by and large fled with their Turkish masters. Only the most Arab nationalists stayed behind. Although the papacy paid for the building of a rather large cathedral, monastic complex, and school system, the Catholic community in Antioch was too small to necessitate a bishop residing with them 24/7. Aleppo, meanwhile, had the most Catholics out of any city in Syria.
The Syrian government footed the bill for quite a homecoming. It was a point of pride that one of their own had such a prestigious title and position of power. The new state invited him to take a tour of the entire country after sailing into Alexandretta. He was received in Damascus by the first president of the new republic along with his wife and the various heads of the many faith groups in the country.
It wasn't hard to track down his surviving family, but not had all survived the war. His father was killed almost immediately after he and his siblings fled with Giulio della Chiesa. His older, male siblings were placed in a forced labor camp by the Turks and one perished. His mother, old sisters, nieces, & nephews had taken refuge in the Italian consul's manor home, along with hundreds of other Christians. They survived, but their family was never the same. His five other siblings and his oldest nieces and nephews who fled to Italy also accompanied him to Syria in order to make contact with their long-lost kin. By then they had all married Italians & had children who were raised only as Italians. They had all completely culturally assimilated to life in Rome or Genoa. They even all changed their surnames from "Bar Makārijūs" to "D'Aleppo," the only nod to their Syrian roots. None had any intention of repatriating. Their reunion with their mother and surviving, elder siblings was an emotional one. Try as they might, none could convince their mother to return with them to Italy. She absolutely would not leave her homeland, especially when her husband, eldest son, and seven other children who died during childbirth were buried in the Maronite cemetery of Aleppo. The entire Bar Makārijūs family did however move into the episcopal residency with the new patriarch in Aleppo. He awarded every surviving member with Papal States citizenship. Some of the more ambitious nieces and nephews did take up Patriarch Gregory's siblings offer to help them migrate to Italy or the Papal States.
Patriarch Gregory's duties were just as much political as they were spiritual. He represented the papacy at official functions in Syria and Lebanon and tried to mediate better privileges for Catholics in both countries. Syria and Lebanon were both secular, pan-Arabist states until they each veered into a direction of specifically Syrian and Lebanese nationalism to accommodate the many minorities in their countries (Armenians, Assyrians, Circassians, Greeks, Jews, Levantines, some nomadic Kurds and Turkmen, even a handful of arabized Anatolian Turks). The patriarch celebrated the civic nationalism as a positive turn of events until Syria's SNORist-adjacent coup in 1953. The upper echelon of the new government was all Eastern Orthodox Christians who had no love for the papacy and its missionary endeavors. He found a cold reception from the leaders of the new Syria. They shut him out of the decision-making process and slowly rolled back a lot of the rights of the Latin Church there. The Maronites and Uniate Armenians were also snubbed, although nowhere near as much as the Latins. Maronites were assumed to be lackeys for Lebanon and Armenians were regularly reminded that they were not Arabs or even any kind of Semitic. After the coup, the role of the patriarch in Syria became purely spiritual and apolitical, much to Gregory's chagrin. He felt that he could no longer govern under those conditions. After his mother passed a few weeks after the coup, he had no reason to stay in the land of his birth.
Patriarch of Jerusalem
In late November of 1953, after requesting and receiving a canonical transfer, the papacy played musical chairs with ecclesiastical positions. The patriarch of Venice and all Aquileia retired to a monastery in Aquileia which opened up that position for the patriarch of Jerusalem at the time. That in turn opened up the position of Latin patriarch for Gregory. The previous patriarch of Jerusalem was an Italian who didn't speak Arabic, Syriac, or Judajca. He was unsuited for the role and deeply longed for his native Italy. The papal bureaucracy felt that Gregory as a native speaker of both Arabic and Syriac was much better suited for the role.
Gregory threw himself at improving Catholic-Jewish relations. He was made head of the Vatican Jewish Agency, formerly based in Strasbourg but moved to Jerusalem in 1918. Christian-Jewish relations were that of mutual enmity since the third decade of the First Century AD. Patriarch Gregory regularly met with Jewish bodies to discuss commonalities and what the Church could do to heal relations and make amends for past crimes against Jewish innocents. During his first year stationed in Jerusalem, he publicly apologized to the Sanhedrin for any role the Catholic Church in the sin of antisemitism. This shocked Europe thoroughly to its core and gained him a great deal of detractors back in the Papal States. What's more is that he advocated for Jewish parents who became separated from their children and as a result their children were taken in by Catholic orphanages and raised Catholic. He helped return several children in such predicaments in France, Italy, the Papal States, and Lebanon. For this reason, he had the highest approval rating amongst Judeans among any pope quite possibly ever.
Giovanni DiVeria was made a cardinal upon his enthronement as Latin Rite Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1953.
Nomination as pope
Following the death of Pope Pius XIJ, the following Papal Conclave ultimately chose Gregory to be the newest pope. The media spun out many conspiracy theories following this, claiming bribery in the elections. How true any of these allegations were is ultimately unprovable. It is now believed by the pope's biographers that he was chosen because of how young he was. He was only 51 at the time. The cardinals believed that the office needed someone who could govern for a long time. Because of the backlash following his selection, Gregory chose not to be crowned with the papal tiara, as his predecessors were, but instead used a much simpler tiara made out of silver donated by the people of Genoa. Gregory even requested that they set half as many gemstones into the crown as the specifications they sent him planned for, with the unused gems to be sold and the money gained to be given to the poor of the city. He took the name Gregory XVIJ, not changing his name from the one he had been using since he was made a patriarch of Antioch. He was the first pope not born on the European continent since Pope Bessarion I (1455-1472), who born in the city of Trapezounta/Trebizond on the Black Sea coast of Anatolia. Before that was Pope Gregory III who was born in Syria who was pope from 731-741 AD.
Liturgical revision of 1965
Pope Gregory XVII oversaw the revision of the Latin Mass in 1965. Although many prelates pushed for a complete overhaul of the liturgy to make it simpler and stress its commonalities with the various Protestant denominations, Pope Gregory's only concern was to encourage the faithful to meaningfully participate in the liturgy. To accomplish this, he took a chapter from the book of Eastern Christianity. He approved the translation of the liturgy into all vernacular languages. This monumental undertaking was done by the brightest linguists that the Papal States had to offer. This idea was not as radical as the pope's detractors made it out to be. Under his predecessor, the Sacred Congregation of Rites granted permission for the use of local languages in countries with a mission presence. On top of that, liturgical traditions older than two hundred years were exempt from the liturgical revisions. This explains why parishes in Dumnonia still retain the rite to celebrate the liturgy in Latin. The Cambrian Church is canonically distinct from the rest of the Latin Church and enjoys a degree of autonomy not much seen anywhere else. That sui juris Church was exempt and as its hierarchs are much less concerned with liturgical uniformity than the two sees it considers its progenitors (Constantinople and Rome). Not even today does any synod prevent lone dioceses in this southern half of Kemr from their priests singing their lines in Latin while the congregation responds in Kerno (or Brithenig). The ways the many monastic orders celebrate the liturgy, the Mozarabic Rite (Mass of St. Isidore of Seville), the Zaire Mass (for the Kongo), the Ambrosian Mass of Milan, the Mass of Lyon for the people of Gaulhe, the Glagolitic Mass for Croats, the byzantinized Dalmatian Use, 1544 Nakhchivan Use for Latin Rite Armenians, the Sarum Use of England, the Algonquian/Iroquoian Masses for the Native peoples of the eastern NAL, the Aquileian Rite of northern Italy, the Lutheran Use of the Holy Roman Episcopal Lutheran Church group of ex-Lutheran Uniates, and the byzantinized Esztergom Use for the Archbishopric of Esztergom in Hungary were all also exempt.
Shortly before his death, in 1989, Pope Gregory XVIJ opened the Vatican Council. It was concluded by his successor Pope John XIIJ in 1990.
It dealt almost entirely with matters of human rights and local interest and the limits of the pope's temporal authority. Pope Gregory ceded most of his political power into the Roman Senate. The council did not go so far as to cede the ultimate civil authority to a civilian body. The head of state remains the constitutional right of only the pope. Popes can still veto acts of the Senate in grave circumstances and their arbitration remains the last court of appeal in civil matters. The senate, governmental ministries, and civil judiciary were also entirely laicized. Clergymen are still allowed to exercise their civil rights and stand as candidates for election in the Papal States and the Papal States only. Several late 19th and early 20th Century civil reforms pulled nigh verbatim from the Napoleonic Code ironically enough, were also enshrined in the law code of the Papal States.
For the first time ever, the papacy took a hardline stance against warfare and decried the use of atomic and biological weaponry by the various countries of the world.
Regarding spiritual matters, there were no official decrees on papal infallibility, the supremacy of Peter, or other hard-hitting, theological questions that prevent reunion with the various Eastern Churches.
Latin remains the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican Council did not change this. Any and all documents that pertain to the Latin Church are still written in Latin. However, since the liturgical overhaul of 1965, the Mass is to be celebrated in the local vernacular, although in the Papal States Latin is still considered the vernacular so the liturgy there continues to be celebrated in that liturgical language there. The Vatican Council merely reiterated that parishes must celebrate the Mass in a local language that the parish by and large understands.
Dioceses which use a liturgy older than 200 years of age as of 1965 (such as the Mozarabic Rite, Cambrian Rite, Glagolitic Mass, etc.) are exempt from this mandate, but even in those sees there was an increasing move towards using the vernacular by the 1980's. In the spirit of this Council, the education of Catholic children was totally revised in 1990 to focus more on understanding what is going on during the liturgy and learning the deep symbolism behind every part of it. Priests were also reminded that they must not mumble the liturgy. They too must learn to chant in a clear and easy to understand voice.
Gregory was a saintly and devout priest and a very charismatic and well-loved teacher of the faith. Something like John Paul the Great *here*.