|The world's second most powerful person during an|
audience with the seventh most powerful person in 2007.
I don't really know what to make of lists like these. I guess they can reflect some kind of truth, though they also seem to be totally subjective. Last year, the Chinese leader Hu Jintao was declared the world's most powerful person, though he seems to have slipped to third place this year - even though his nation's sway over the world had increased. Obama, who tops the list this year, is now also probably one of the most unpopular US presidents in history - his political power seems to be diminishing, not increasing. Interestingly, if we were to survey today's youth, most would probably agree that Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook's founder) is an extremely powerful man, yet (thankfully!) his influence doesn't appear to have eclipsed that held by the Holy Father - Zuckerberg trails the Pope by two places.
I am uncertain as to what sort of power Forbes is primarily concerned with - I assume it's worldly power, the power to change things either by the strength of one's army, one's economy or one's Machiavellian ability to persuade? It is true to say that the Pope, as head of the Catholic Church and the Vatican, is a powerful man within the temporal realm. But his power if far greater than that which interests Forbes - his authority extends to the spiritual ream, too. The papal power rests on Jesus Christ, the Universal King of all dominations, powers and worlds - the one to whom all knees will bow. The Pontiff's power, given to him by the Son of God, is therefore quite awesome. He has been given the authority to bind or loose anything, whether on earth or in heaven! Now, "power" like that can never really be compared to the kind of power held by political or financial leaders, or the influence that other religious leaders or philosophical thinkers might have.
Of course, the Holy Father's power is also contradictory - in that his authority rests on Christ, whilst his ability to persuade is largely dependent upon a personal desire to fulfil his vocation as "the servant of the servants of God." And although Pope Benedict XVI holds ultimate power within the Catholic Church, this power's primary purpose is to guard tradition. He is not like worldly politicians, who more often than not use their influence and authority to radically change the world in one way or another. The Pope's job is to conserve the truth and preach the love of God - to conform himself to Christ. His power, therefore, is not one that is ultimately his - all popes are accountable to God, from whom their authority comes.
Here are some details from the Forbes' list. The five most powerful people in the world are: 1 Barack Obama, 2 Vladimir Putin, 3 Hu Jintao, 4 Angela Merkel, and 5 Bill Gates. The Pope comes in as the 7th most powerful person in the world, whilst David Cameron is three spots behind him, at 10th place - quite a feat for him. Nicolas Sarkozy is the 13th most powerful person, whilst the Governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, comes in three places behind the President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi - surely, that cant be right, especially as Europe is begging China for money at the moment! Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New Your City, is more powerful than the press baron and Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi; whilst the nominal President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, is deemed to be less powerful than the former US President, Bill Clinton.
As Christians, we believe that real power comes to us through our personal weakness - when we stop relying on our ultimately futile human strengths, choosing instead to depend on God's grace. Our Lord conquered death, sin and the underworld by being stripped naked, flogged, crucified and by allowing himself to die as a slave in a Roman provincial backwater. He also taught that the first shall be last in his Kingdom (Mt 20:16), whilst his Mother sings that God casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly (cf Lk 1:52) - both points succinctly expressed by Jesus with these words: "The greatest among you will be your servant - those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Mt 23:11). Real power, then, always rests on humility and the ability to join St Paul, who famously wrote: "when I am weak, then am I powerful" (2 Cor 12:10; Douay-Rheims version).
[Image: The former President of Russia and that nation's current Prime Minster (and probable future President), Vladimir Putin meeting Pope Benedict XVI (Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God) in 2007; this image is published under a creative commons licence and is attributed to the Kremlin; source and further details: Wikimedia Commons]