Stemmle’s novel, the first black pope appoints a seemingly ordinary,
long-married Catholic American couple to promote a worldwide interfaith peace
This Roman Catholic what-if isn’t as somber (and long) as Morris West’s best-seller of yesteryear Shoes of the Fisherman (1963), though folks with long memories may find some parallels. One distinction: Stemmle revisits the long-married, sexually active senior couple Don and Deb from his Geezer Sex!...A Love Story (2014), here on a very different mission. In the near future, the death of a (post-Francis) pope inspires the Vatican hierarchy to announce the surprise election of the first African pontiff, former Cardinal Peter Mbuti of Nigeria. Liberal-minded churchgoers and laity activists Deb and Don impressed Mbuti during an encounter earlier in his ministry. Now, using his papal authority, earthy, unpretentious Peter—who swears and munches junk food and admits he doesn’t really know what he’s doing in this new job—summons the two Americans to Rome. There, “Pope Nobody,” as he comes to call himself, orders the two to use their knack for communication and bridge-building in an interfaith effort to unite representatives in the three great monotheistic religions—Christianity, Islam and Judaism—as part of a concerted attempt to quell the world’s ongoing wars, most of which seem to spring from religion (particularly an awful lot involve Muslim radicals). The results, building up to Vatican III, are somewhat static, via descriptions of a series of globe-trotting meetings and clerical conferences. But characters are well drawn, not just walking bundles of op-ed pieces, as they converse extensively on religious differences and how to use faith to defang the most violent fringes of radical Islam. To Stemmle’s credit, there is no fairy-tale ending or miracle-mongering finale, just a glimmer of hope. For what it’s worth, other hot-button issues such as abortion and homosexuality get left behind.
An instructional narrative keyed to those tolerant worshippers who might sport a COEXIST bumper sticker.