The year 2000 ended and the New Year began with a partial eclipse of the Sun on Christmas Day. It was not just any Christmas Day. By traditional reckoning, it was the 2000th birthday of Jesus of Nazareth. It was a truly ecumenical Day, falling also in the middle of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah and at the end of the Moslem observance of Ramadan.
As one might guess, solar eclipses on Christmas Day are extremely rare celestial events. In the past 4000 years, the Sun has been eclipsed only 30 times on December 25th. It=s also worth remembering that December 25th is no ordinary date. Even if we set aside its Christian trappings, December 25th represents the pivotal day of the yearly cycle. For pre-modern humans, nothing was more ominous that the retreat of the Sun and the shorting of daylight hours during the relentless onset of winter. The day when the Sun was “reborn”, when it began to retrace its path and lengthen its days, was therefore a day of joy.
What would our ancestors have thought of the Sun=s eclipse on December 25th? We might speculate that it would surely have been regarded as the most ominous of heavenly signs. But no such speculation is required of us. The great standing stones erected by the Druids some 4000 years ago on Salisbury Plain in England=s Cornish countryside speak to us in no uncertain terms. Stonehenge gives mute testimony to a nigh obsessive preoccupation of archaic humanity with solar eclipses. Several preeminent British astronomers (Gerald Hawkins and Fred Hoyle among them) have demonstrated how these Druid megaliths, in tandem with the 56 encompassing post-holes, actually operate as a sophisticated “computer” for predicting solar eclipses. Not just any solar eclipses, either. A marker stone was advanced annually through the 56 “Aubrey holes” and, when the stone reached the 56th hole, it served to warn the Druid priests of that most dreaded of prodigies: the mid-winter solar eclipse that aborts the Sun=s rebirth.
After receiving the warning, the Druids would watch for the rising of the first full Moon of winter. If it rose above the Hele stone ― named for the Nordic goddess of death ― they would know that the next new Moon would eclipse the Sun at the critical juncture of its “rebirth” after the solstice. The Sun, already in its most weakened and vulnerable posture, would be wounded by the Moon ― perhaps mortally? The potential for an Apocalypse was real and present at such times.
According to the Hebrew Midrash, Adam himself initiated the sacred observances associated with the winter solstice. Our first parents watched with increasing anxiety as the Sun=s light diminished and its path sunk down toward the horizon. Before the solstice, Adam spent eight days in fasting and prayer, followed by eight days of rejoicing when he saw the days grow longer and the sunlight wax stronger again. The eight days are still observed during the Jewish Festival of Lights. It=s noteworthy that Christmas 2000 coincided with the midpoint of the Hanukkah observance. It also coincided with the final days of Islam=s holy month of Ramadan.
Putting all of this together, we have a celestial event that can only be described as an “omen”. It is an omen that appears at a singular point of convergence between the holy days of the world=s three most powerful religious institutions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The omen also draws archetypal energy from the pre-monotheistic rituals epitomized by Stonehenge.
The celestial coincidence of a solar eclipse on December 25th is a very rare event, having happened only 30 times in the last 4000 years. Even more rare is the visibility of such an eclipse in the quarter of the globe which reveres December 25th as a holy day. The last Christmas eclipse visible in the Mediterranean region occurred in the year 1098 AD, when Antioch fell to the Christian knights of the First Crusade. It was a year that saw the founding of the great monastery of Citeaux, where St. Bernard would take his vows. In the ensuing year 1099 AD, Jerusalem would fall to the Christian Crusaders. The confluence of St. Bernard and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem would, in turn, produce a sort of medieval mafia known as the Knights Templar.
Drawing upon Bernard=s tremendous prestige and influence, the Templars were able to transcend the boundaries of feudalism and establish Europe=s first great financial empire, the forerunner of modern-day banking and the historical root of Western capitalism. Soon clerics and nobles became so deeply indebted to the Templar banks that the Knights were very close to gaining control of both Church and State early in the 14th Century. Only a series of daring moves by then French monarch Philip the Fair ― first forcing the Pope to become his vassal at Avignon, then using this papal pawn to accuse the Knights of heresy ― averted absolute Templar hegemony. Contrary to popular belief, however, this secretive order of holy bank-rollers was not wiped out; it simply went “underground” for a while.
In the 20th Century, the furtive ethos and organization of the Templars has re-emerged in the form of another autonomous “religious order” which likewise serves as a cover for a quasi-criminal financial empire. Out of the cauldron of the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s came a self-obsessed priest named Josémaría Escrivá de Balaguer. Father Escrivá marched into Madrid with the first column of Franco=s troops in 1939 and spent the rest of his life promoting the marriage of Fascism and Roman Catholicism under the rubric “Opus Dei”, the “Work of God”. Known simply as “The Father” to his followers, Escrivá imposed unquestioning obedience to superiors as the cardinal rule of Christian piety. Escrivá=s will and the will of God were one ― thus was his flock blasphemously indoctrinated, with the full endorsement of Pope Pius XII. Like their Templar precursors, Opus Dei quickly established a financial empire which took control of the Spanish economy by the late 1960’s, then made its move to establish financial hegemony within the Vatican itself.
As it had worked in concert with the fascists in Spain, the Opus sought out an equivalent political entity within Italian society in order to penetrate the Papal State. Unfortunately, however, Mussolini=s defeat in World War II had left Fascism a marginal force in Italy. There remained, however, a core of committed fascists, some of whom had retained contacts with the Spanish counterparts after serving with Franco=s forces in the Spanish Civil War. One such was a man named Licio Gelli, a obscure mattress salesman and head of an insignificant lodge of freemasons when the Opus discovered him. Gelli’s lodge was pretentiously named Propanganda Due (P-2), after the 19th Century revolutionary lodge founded by the Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini. But with the resources and contacts of Opus Dei behind him, Signor Gelli=s status changed dramatically. He became the “Puppetmaster”, controlling the elite of Italy’s military, government and media. Secret P-2 membership list included Prime Ministers, military chiefs, heads of intelligence agencies, newspaper editors, and corporate executive. Also on the list of Gelli’s “puppets” were powerful members of the Roman Curia, the Vatican=s “government”.
Gelli gained access to Roman Curia through three channels:
(1) Umberto Ortolani, a Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM). The Knights of Malta are a remnant of Knights Hospitaller, successors to the assets of Templars when latter were disbanded. The SMOM operates as independent “sovereign nation” within the Vatican walls. It’s international membership includes the reactionary Catholic elite, which overlaps with Opus Dei.
(2) Mafioso banker-financier Michele Sindona, the world=s leading expert on money-laundering. It was an art he picked up while keeping the books for Gambino-Inzerillo-Spatola heroin trade out of Messina, Sicily. Sindona was a long-time friend of former Cardinal Giuseppe Montini of Milan, who became Pope Paul VI, thanks to the efforts of Ortolani.
(3) Incredibly, the Soviet KGB, by way of Gelli’s contacts with Italian partisans in the waning days of the Second World War. The KGB’s “ears” within the Curia included Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, who became a target of P-2 blackmail.
Opus Dei used P-2 to orchestrate a Vatican financial crisis. P-2 bankers Michele Sindona and Roberto Calvi drew the credulous Vatican Bank into seemingly lucrative international currency manipulations. But these shady transactions were a facade for a massive embezzlement scheme, diverting hundreds of millions of dollars to Opus-sponsored right-wing political movements in Eastern Europe and Latin America. It all ended, predictably, in bank failures and massive Vatican debt. Conveniently, Opus Dei was prepared to offer a bailout for the beleaguered Vatican Bank ― but at a price. They would take control of the Vatican’s purse strings.
Before the Opus plan could succeed, however, it had to overcome two difficult circumstances. One problem was their lack of total control over Sindona and Calvi. Neither man meekly accepted being hung out to dry, which is Opus= customary treatment of those it=s finished using. Sindona bridled at the prospect of jail time for his role in the scheme. When Opus used Cardinal Casaroli to block overt support of Sindona=s legal defense by the Vatican, Sindona became upset and started having people killed. He also tried to blackmail Gelli and Calvi to gain their support. But Opus Dei cleverly pitted Sindona, Gelli and Calvi against each other, while they pulled the strings behind the scenes to have each one of them eliminated after they had served their purpose.
The second problem was the Pope. Although they had succeeded in quickly terminating the reign of John Paul I and replacing him with the more accommodating John Paul II, the latter still resisted handing over the Church lock-stock-and-barrel to Opus Dei. Consequently, they formulated a “contingency plan” which called for the Polish Pontiff to be “incapacitated” for a period of time, if he proved too resistant to their designs.
The whole thing came to a head in 1981. While investigating the staged “kidnapping” of Sindona in 1979, the Italian police raided Gelli’s home in Arezzo on March 17, 1981. There they found a partial list of P-2 members. The list was initially kept secret by the Italian government, which feared the public revelation that many of its top leaders were under P-2 control. When Opus Dei became aware that the P-2 list had fallen into the hands of opposition politicians and would soon be released, they recognized that they had a short “window of opportunity” in which to act. Gelli was tipped off and fled to a villa in Uruguay owned by Umberto Ortolani. He was transported there on the private yacht of Francisco Pazienza, a P-2 operative within the Italian intelligence service. Information was provided to the Italian authorities to have Calvi indicted for bank fraud and Sindona for heroin trafficking. And, most important of all, the “contingency plan” was activated to get the Pope out of the way for a while.
On May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square, Mehmet Ali Agca fired four shots at John Paul II from point blank range. Agca was a trained assassin who had been convicted two years earlier for killing Abdi Ipeki, a liberal Turkish newspaper editor, on behalf of a neo-fascist group known as the Gray Wolves. The Gray Wolves were key players in the Mafia’s heroin smuggling route from Turkey through Bulgaria to Italy. Of the four shots fired by Agca from a distance of less than four meters, two missed entirely and the other two struck the Pope in the left hand and the right elbow. For a marksman like Agca, this could only mean that he had been aiming to wound the Pontiff, not kill him. It was unforeseeable that the bullet which struck the index finger of the Pope’s left hand would deflect into his lower abdomen and nearly cause him to bleed to death.
A week after the shooting, on May 20, 1981, Roberto Calvi was arrested on charges of illegal currency transactions and bank fraud. In Calvi’s absence, Opus Dei arranged for Pazienza to take control of his banking empire and to manage its collapse in such a way that Opus’ holdings suffered no losses. When Calvi was later convicted and sentenced to four years in prison, he threatened to go public with documents implicating the Vatican Bank in his crimes and proving that he had merely been the pawn of Gelli and Ortolani. Promising to help Calvi with his problems, Opus Dei lured him into a meeting in London, where his body was found one morning hanging from a bridge. His briefcase full of incriminating documents had conveniently disappeared.
The day after Calvi’s arrest, on May 21, 1981, the list of P-2 members was published in the Italian press, triggering a scandal that brought down the Italian government. With the Pope hospitalized for four months, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Casaroli, assumed control and took steps to assure Opus Dei would get everything it had been seeking. By the time John Paul II had fully recovered, the Opus “bailout” of the Vatican Bank was a fait accompli, as was the approval of their “personal prelature” status. This assured that Opus Dei would henceforth be accountable only to the Pope, whose purse strings they now controlled.
As for the Pope’s would be “assassin”, he received frequent visits from Francisco Pazienza, who offered him a “deal”: eventual pardon if he would say he was acting on behalf of Bulgarian intelligence. Although Agca played along with the scheme for a while, he ultimately disavowed the “Bulgarian Connection” and admitted he had been coached by Pazienza. But Agca’s recanting did little to diminish the propaganda impact of his earlier charges, which fitted nicely into the anti-Soviet crusade that Opus Dei was then conducting in tandem with the Reagan administration. Though it took them 19 years, Opus ultimately delivered on their bargain with Agca, who obtained a pardon from Italian prison at the Vatican’s urging on June 13, 2000. Less than two weeks later, the Vatican released the text of what it claimed to be the Third Secret of Fatima. The official commentary accompanying claimed that the Third Secret dealt with the shooting of John Paul II in 1981 and reasserted the long-discredited Bulgarian thesis. Again, it was quite convenient that Agca himself had been shipped back to Turkish prison (to complete his sentence for the 1979 Ipeki murder) and was no longer around to contradict this story. Interestingly, however, when Agca next appeared in public at his trial for a 1979 armed robbery, he issued a handwritten statement through his lawyer accusing the Vatican of changing the Third Secret of Fatima and of “arranging an attack on its own pope”.
And so, the solar eclipse on Christmas Day of 2000 was a fitting symbolic ending for a year that had seen such Herculean efforts to obscure the Light that Christ brought into the World. Perhaps we can take comfort, however, in the fact that the eclipse was only a partial one, and that the Light was only diminished, not obliterated. Truth is more persistent than any weed. Let but a small bit of it survive, and it will not only return ― it will spread.