(Reuters) - Maybe it describes the colour of his skin or place of
But the next Pope will be the "Olive" Pope, according to
a 12th century prophecy that foresees just two remaining pontificates
before the end of the world.
The often-cited -- and contested -- prediction is attributed to St.
Malachy, an Irish archbishop recognised by members of the Church for
his ability to read the future and who was canonised more than 800
St. Malachy was said to have had a vision during a trip to Rome
around 1139 of the remaining 112 Popes before the Last Judgment, the
time when the bible says God separates the wicked from the righteous
at the end of time.
The next Pope will be number 111 on that list and is described in
the text as the "Glory of the Olive".
Like any good prophecy, there is plenty of room for interpretation:
he could be "olive" skinned, heralding from Latin America,
Africa or the Mediterranean.
"It could even be a Pope of Jewish origin, since the olive
branch is a biblical symbol for the people of Israel," speculated
Italy's La Stampa newspaper.
The Malachy prophecy has been the subject of controversy for
centuries. Critics say it is a forgery, possibly distributed as
campaign propaganda in the late 16th century to favour a cardinal
during the conclave.
But believers point to similarities with the pontiffs. 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.
Some take the prophecy relating to John Paul less literally and say
it simply referred to the Polish Pope's birthplace in eastern Europe.
The sun rises in the East.
The 109th on the list, Pope John Paul I, was dubbed as "de
medietate lunae" or "half moon" by the prophecy.
Believers say this described his short stint in the papacy of just
over a month, stretching from one partial lunar cycle to another.
More pressing, perhaps, for doomsayers are the references to the
last Pope on the list "Petrus Romanus", or Peter the Roman,
and makes mention of the destruction of "the city of seven
hills" -- Rome.
"During the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church, Peter
the Roman will rule, feeding the flock through many tribulations, at
the end of which the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the
formidable judge will judge his people," it says.