Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Morris West was an Australian writer whose deep interest in and commitment to Catholicism provided the central theme for nearly all of his thirty novels. When The Shoes of the Fisherman, his novel of internal Vatican politics, was published in 1963, it met with mixed reviews. Some literary critics felt that the plot was too thin. The book nevertheless became enormously popular. More than twelve million copies were sold, propelling The Shoes of the Fisherman to the top position on The New York Times best-seller list for many weeks.
The novel begins with the death of the pope and the arrangements for a conclave to elect a successor. The story focuses on Kyril Lakota, who is a Catholic priest in the Soviet Union during World War II. After the war he is elevated to a bishopric and soon thereafter arrested and tortured. After Lakota has been imprisoned in Siberia for seventeen years, his chief interrogator, Kamenev, organizes an escape for him. It has become politically embarrassing for the Soviet Union to continue his imprisonment. After Lakota makes his way to Rome, he finds that the dying pope has made him a cardinal. At the conclave of cardinals convened to elect the pope’s successor, Lakota is nominated and elected through the intervention of two of the most influential cardinals: Rinaldi and Leone, both of whom believe that it is time for the election of a non-Italian Pope. West’s novel anticipated by fifteen years...
(The entire section is 996 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the wake of the death of the pope, the sacred college of cardinals convenes in Rome to select a successor. Among the cardinals summoned to Rome is Cardinal Lakota of Ukraine, at age fifty the youngest cardinal and only recently freed from nearly seventeen years of harsh imprisonment in a Siberian labor camp for practicing his faith. Cardinal Lakota, handpicked by Cardinal Rinaldi to offer the sermon on the opening day of the conclave, moves the college with his earnestness, delivering impassioned remarks about the duty of the Papacy to serve the forgotten souls of the Roman Catholic Church. The following day, the charismatic Cardinal Lakota is elected pope by acclamation on the first ballot. He takes the name Kiril I.
Determined to return the Church to its pastoral mission and to raise the spiritual life of the Church’s despondent and indifferent millions, Kiril embarks on a historic call for change. There are crises everywhere—political turmoil in Africa, mass starvation in China, religious persecution in communist countries, global environmental pollution, escalating world population, financial crises in both Europe and the United States, and, supremely, the ever-escalating nuclear arms race. However, Kiril, writing of his spiritual agonies and the immense burdens of his elevation in his diary, sees the Church as made up of individuals needing to realize the hope of their faith. To that end, Kiril, wearing only the simple cassock of a parish...
(The entire section is 871 words.)